- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2000

Texas Gov. George W. Bush backed religious conservatives when Arizona Sen. John McCain labeled Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "agents of intolerance."

Nearly two months later, Mr. Falwell and Mr. Robertson are joining a slew of conservative activists in warning Mr. Bush against a pro-choice running mate.

"I think there's far more to lose than to gain in choosing a pro-choice running mate," Mr. Falwell said yesterday.

"Obviously, I am a Bush supporter and will vote for Mr. Bush in November," said Mr. Falwell, a minister from Lynchburg who founded the Moral Majority.

"But there is no way I could expect my followers to work for or to support a pro-choice candidate."

Picking New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a supporter of partial-birth abortion, "would be fatal," Mr. Falwell said.

Choosing Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge or New York Gov. George E. Pataki, both of whom are pro-choice, "would do more damage to the Bush campaign than good," he added. "There are too many good pro-life candidates out there for the governor even to be considering Ridge or Pataki."

Mr. Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, says Mr. Bush should not listen to "nervous Nellies" on his staff who want him to move to the middle by selecting a pro-choice running mate.

"I hope George W. has enough sense to know, and I believe he does, that the base is extremely important," Mr. Robertson told Newsweek. "You don't forsake your base."

Roberta Combs, Christian Coalition vice president, said yesterday that Mr. Bush "is pro-life and he's with us on the issues," and talk on running mates is premature.

Pro-life activists are unlikely to oppose Mr. Bush. But they warn that if Mr. Bush picks a pro-choice running mate, many conservatives might stay home as in 1998, when Democrats gained five seats in the House of Representatives.

"They would either take a walk or vote for Pat Buchanan," Mr. Falwell said. "Either choice would be a vote for Al Gore."

Pennsylvania, with 23 electoral votes, may be critical to Mr. Bush, but picking Mr. Ridge would risk a pro-life backlash.

Mr. Ridge raised the stakes last week when he told reporters that Republicans should scrap or revise their pro-life platform plank.

"I'm sure there will be plenty of speculation, but he does not have a list" of potential running mates, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said. "Governor Bush has made it clear he will pick a nominee who is ready to be president, who shares his conservative philosophy and who will be loyal."

Meanwhile, other conservative activists are waving warning signs at Mr. Bush.

David O'Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, said yesterday that Mr. Bush "is sincerely pro-life and has a strong pro-life record."

But Mr. O'Steen said it would "be "harmful to his election efforts to have a running mate who was counter to him on such an important issue. It would certainly send a mixed message."

Gary Bauer, a former Republican presidential candidate who now heads the Campaign for Working Families, said yesterday a pro-choice running mate "would mean the party of Lincoln and Reagan was choosing to be ambivalent about a basic issue of human rights and the meaning of the Declaration of Independence."

In the short term, he said, "it would result in forfeiting any opportunity to get Reagan Democrats back, the blue-collar workers who will vote Republican if they're thinking about social issues but who will vote for Democrats if they're thinking about economics."

Mike Farris, a conservative activist and former Virginia nominee for lieutenant governor, expects Mr. Bush will pick a pro-life running mate because the Texas governor says his choice must be philosophically compatible.

But Mr. Farris warns a pro-choice running mate would cost Republicans control of the House of Representatives.

"I think some people will go to Buchanan, and in a really tight election you don't need too many going in that direction to have a real problem," Mr. Farris said.

James Dobson, Focus on the Family president, told a radio audience this month that a pro-choice running mate means "we'll be stuck with Al Gore for the next four years because people just won't vote."

Pollster John Zogby of Zogby International said in an earlier appearance on "What Washington Doesn't Want You to Know" that Mr. Bush should pick a pro-choice running mate. He said on the air that Mr. Dobson should acquiesce because "he might want to win."

Last Wednesday, Mr. Dobson encouraged so many supporters to call Mr. Zogby's office in protest that Mr. Zogby was forced to close it for the day.

"We've logged over 1,200 calls here," he said. "We were shut down. Dobson's been on my case."

• David Boyer contributed to this report.

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