Life Issues in the Balance
WASHINGTON — The outcome of this fall's U.S. Senate elections will determine the fate of much of President Bush's pro-life agenda.
Political analysts say Republican control of the Senate would provide by far the largest shift in favor of pro-life issues that could be generated by this year's elections. Democrats in control of the Senate have made it clear that they are committed to blocking any pro-life legislation. They have grown increasingly aggressive in voting down judicial nominees who might dilute Roe v. Wade. If any Supreme Court justice should retire, a Democrat Senate would likely be even more aggressive in blocking a pro-life successor.
Meanwhile, control of the U.S. House seems likely to remain with Republicans (see sidebar, page 7).
At this point, no one can predict how the Senate will turn out, given its razor-thin margin and the number of close races around the country.
Further complicating the picture are recent events in New Jersey, a liberal state that was widely regarded earlier this year as being unassailably Democratic in the Senate. But after scandal-tarred incumbent Sen. Robert Torricelli fell far behind Republican challenger incumbent Sen. Robert Torricelli fell far behind Republican challenger Douglas Forrester in polls, he withdrew from the race Sept. 30 and was replaced as Democratic nominee by former Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Polls after the candidate switch showed the race to be a dead heat.
A survey published by National Journal's Hotline on Oct. 9 indicated Democrats would win 50 seats, Republicans 49 and Jeffords would remain the sole Independent. In his Evans-Novak Political Report mailed to subscribers the same day, pro-life political commentator Bob Novak estimated the “current outlook” to give Republicans control with 50 seats and Democrats with 49.
Though in such a scenario Jeffords would caucus with Democrats to give them 50 effective seats, Vice President Dick Cheney would use his tie-breaking power to give Republicans control. Under that arrangement, Republicans might choose to share power with Democrats, as they did in the first few months of Bush's term prior to Jeffords’ defection, but would still have the ability to force floor votes on legislation and nominees.
When it comes to motivating American Catholics to vote for prolife candidates, “the [bishops’] conference doesn't have any special effort this year,” said Cathy Cleaver, pro-life spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
She pointed to the document Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics issued in 1998 as giving clear guidance regarding the pre-eminence life issues should hold for Catholic voters.
In it, the U.S. bishops proclaimed, “Any politics of human dignity must seriously address issues of racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing and health care. … But being ‘right’ in such matters can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life” (italics in original).
Life issues have been particularly prominent in the fall campaign in Michigan, where pro-abortion incumbent Sen. Carl Levin is facing pro-life Republican challenger Andrew “Rocky” Raczkowski, and where Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jennifer Granholm, who is Catholic, has been publicly challenged by prolife Catholics over her pro-abortion position.
Over the weekend of Oct. 5-6, Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit had a letter read at Masses throughout the archdiocese. “These basic truths about right and wrong must shape our political judgments and our decisions about how we vote,” the cardinal's letter said. “And most importantly, where does the candidate stand on abortion, described by the Michigan Catholic Conference as the ‘pre-eminent threat to human dignity because it directly attacks life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others.’”
Since taking control of the Senate last year, Democrats under the direction of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., a Catholic, have throttled attempts at pro-life legislation. There are 14 Democratic Catholic senators, all of whom are pro-abortion except Louisiana's Sen. John Breaux, who has cautiously staked out a moderate position.
Through inaction, Senate Democrats are allowing House-passed bills banning partial-birth abortion and human cloning to die, since supporters would have a majority of votes for the partial-birth abortion ban if a vote were allowed. The House-passed Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which would criminalize assaults that harm or kill an unborn child, will also expire at the end of this session due to inaction.
On July 18, the Senate did, however, pass the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, criminalizing the murder of all born children, including those born during a botched abortion. President Bush signed the bill into law during the summer.
Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats have also killed, on partyline votes, the nominations of Charles Pickering and Priscilla Owen to federal appeals courts. Senate Democrats attacked both nominees for not being pro-abortion. And the committee seems prepared to let a third nomination, that of Miguel Estrada, die for similar reasons.
Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., a Catholic, chairs the Judiciary Committee.
It is in this contest that the outcome of single race could make a key difference regardless of how the others turn out. Privately, Senate Republican sources say that if the Republican nominee, Rep. Jim Talent, wins his race in Missouri, they will call back the Senate and confirm some of Bush's judicial nominees, even if Democrats retain control in the overall Senate elections. Since Talent is running in a special election, he would be sworn in before the other new senators, giving Republicans control of the Senate for two months.
Dan Allen, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, identified South Dakota, South Carolina and Missouri as close races where there is an especially stark choice on life issues between the candidates. Asked if there are any pro-life Democratic Senate candidates running this year, Tovah Ravitz-Meehan of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said, “Nothing comes to mind.”
Though 34 Senate seats are up this year, only some are considered competitive. The four very close races:
► Colorado: A poll conducted by Zogby on Sept. 17-18 found 42% in favor of both incumbent pro-life Sen. Wayne Allard (R) and pro-abortion challenger and former U.S. attorney Tom Strickland (D).
► Minnesota: A Sept. 18-19 Zogby poll gave pro-abortion Sen. Paul Wellstone (D) a 41-to-47% lag behind pro-life former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman. This race has shifted back and forth, however, and Wellstone's skepticism of the war in Iraq could determine this race.
► New Hampshire: A University of New Hampshire-WMUR poll conducted Oct. 3-8 put pro-abortion Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) at 47% and prolife Rep. John Sununu (R-N.H.) at 43%. It should be noted that the margin of error in the poll makes the race a dead heat. There is no incumbent since pro-life champion and Catholic Sen. Bob Smith (R) lost his primary to Sunnunu.
► South Dakota: A POS poll Sept. 22-23 put pro-life Rep. John Thune (R) over pro-abortion Sen. Tim Johnson (D), 48 to 43%. This intense race in Majority Leader Daschle's home state has drawn tremendous interest. Johnson supporters have been trying to convince some pro-lifers that their man is not as pro-abortion as Thune supporters make out, but there is a clear distinction in voting records. “John is pro-life, Tim Johnson is not,” said Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for Thune. “He is trying to claim he is personally pro-life, which raises the question of why he doesn't vote that way.”
The following races are not as close but could still go either way:
► Georgia: Though a POS poll conducted Sept. 30 to Oct. 1 gave pro-abortion Sen. Max Cleland (D) only a four-point lead, 45 to 41%, over pro-life Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R), most observers think Chambliss will have a hard time overcoming triple-amputee Cleland's war record and affability. But he certainly has a good chance of scoring an upset.
► Missouri: There is still hope left for pro-life Rep. Jim Talent (R) to overcome the lead of pro-abortion Sen. Jean Carnahan (D). But a Zogby poll done Sept. 17-18 gives Carnahan a 48-to-40% edge.
► South Carolina: Pro-life Rep. Lindsey Graham (R) has pulled ahead to a 46-to-38% lead over pro-abortion Alex Sanders (D) in a Garin-Hart-Yang poll done Sept. 18-19, and his chances of victory are considered solid.
► Texas: This open seat created by the retirement of pro-life Sen. Phil Gramm (R) should, in principle, easily go to pro-life Attorney General John Cornyn (R), but proabortion Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk (D) is giving him a hard time. A Fairbank-Maslin poll conducted Sept. 22-24 gives Cornyn the lead 39 to 35%, and the Republican is likely to win.
One final wild card race emerged last week in Montana when, with his campaign tanking, the Republican candidate dropped out of his race against pro-abortion incumbent Sen. Max Baucus, complaining the Democrats ran an ad that made him look like a homosexual hairdresser.
At press time, Republicans were considering trying to repeat what Democrats did in New Jersey and put a last-minute replacement candidate on the ballot — perhaps even former Gov. Marc Racicot, chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Joseph D'Agostino writes from Washington, D.C.
GOP Holds Edge In House Races
WASHINGTON — The conventional wisdom in Washington now is that Republicans will keep control of the U.S. House after the Nov. 5 elections.
Still, a six-seat swing could give Democrats control of the House, though it may actually take more if Rep. Ralph Hall, D-Texas, makes good his threat to vote for the most conservative candidate for House speaker next time around, which is unlikely to be the Democrat.
The Gallup generic ballot, in which likely voters were asked if they would vote Republican or Democrat in their congressional races, found 48% for the Democrat and 47% for the Republican in a poll done Oct. 3-6 with a margin of error of four points. That's a decline from 50-46% in favor of the Democrats on Sept. 20-22, and district- by-district breakdowns by most political observers give Republicans a slight edge.
Bob Novak's latest Evans-Novak Political Report predicts a four-seat net gain for Republicans, even though conservative, pro-life Rep. George Gekas, R-Pa., has fallen behind in his race. There are about 40 seats considered close nationwide.
Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says Democrats seem stuck in their efforts to win. “The only way to do that is to change the tilt of the playing field a little bit. They don't have that right now,” he said. If Republicans do pick up seats in the House, they might set a new trend begun by Democrats in the Clinton years: Historically, the party in the White House has lost House seats in midterm elections, but in 1998 the opposite occurred.
— Joseph D'Agostino
- October 20-26, 2002