NARAL Hit List: Conservatives Running for Senate

By Christine Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

( - A prominent abortion rights group has its short list of targeted Senate races for 2002, hoping their early endorsements and future advocacy dollars will boost abortion rights candidates in hotly contested races.

"Perhaps the biggest threat to freedom of choice is the appointment of a Supreme Court justice who opposes Roe v. Wade," said Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League.

"NARAL will press on into the very immediate, very crucial battle for the U.S. Senate," Michelman promised. "To lose in November is to give back the majority leadership to [Senate Minority Leader] Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and the Judiciary Committee to Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)."

NARAL plans to direct its advocacy dollars to the Democratic incumbents and challengers in Senate races in Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and New Hampshire. In the 2000 presidential election cycle, the group spent $7.5 million on issue advocacy, and Michelman has said NARAL is prepared to spend as much in 2002 if necessary.

The Senate represents an important battleground for NARAL, mostly because the Senate has the constitutional duty to review and confirm Supreme Court nominees. Two Supreme Court justices are in their 70s, and the oldest member of the court, abortion rights supporter John Paul Stevens, is 81.

Should any of the sitting Supreme Court justices retire or die in office, it is presently a pro-life, Republican president who would do the nominating. And while Democrats do possess a majority in the Senate, it is by the slimmest of margins - 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans, one Independent.

"There is more intensity in the Senate than the House because Democrats know how important it is that we have the Senate to block the Bush agenda," New Democrat Network President Simon Rosenberg recently told a news outlet.

However, even if Bush gets his first pick in Supreme Court nominees, when it comes to an actual challenge of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, NARAL's fears are overblown, says Heritage Foundation legal scholar Todd Gaziano.

"The last time the court examined the principle holding of Roe v. Wade, there were only three justices who dissented from its continued validity," said Gaziano. "While there are some issues involving parental consent and partial birth abortion that remain open, it would probably take at least several justices on a particular side to retire before there would be any significant change in the court's basic approach regarding abortion."

In any case, said Gaziano, speculation about retirements from the bench have focused mostly on Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, although O'Connor has denied she is considering retirement. If the conservative Rehnquist were to retire, Gaziano reasons, any nominee Bush is likely to offer would not change the balance on the court when it comes to abortion.

NARAL knows the threat to Roe v. Wade is not imminent, says Gaziano. "NARAL's histrionics clearly help whip up the faithful and put money in their coffers, even though they know or should know that their rhetoric is destructive and untrue."

Dick Wadhams, campaign manager for Colorado Republican Sen. Wayne Allard, said the Allard campaign would be ready for a NARAL onslaught.

"It's no surprise at all the NARAL would target Sen. Allard," said Wadhams. "Sen. Allard has been very consistently pro-life his entire public life, [and] polls have shown that it is a competitive race" this year.

"But ... NARAL is more of a partisan organization than it is an ideological one," said Wadhams. "They have targeted, at least in Colorado, Republicans who were also pro-choice," such as Sen. Hank Brown.

Targeting pro-life Republicans won't work, Wadhams predicts.

"The Democrats always think that abortion is a silver bullet in Colorado," said Wadhams. "The fact is that we've elected a pro-life Republican governor (Bill Owens) and Sen. Allard was elected as a pro-life Republican senator in [1996]. Their silver bullets never seem to work for them."

In the general election, Allard will likely again face his 1996 Democratic challenger Tom Strickland, a former U.S. attorney. Allard bested Strickland by just 51 to 46 percent six years ago. A January poll by the Denver Post showed Allard at 51 percent and Strickland at 35 percent at this early stage in the campaign season.

NARAL is also targeting for defeat the winner of the Georgia Republican primary between state Rep. Bob Irvin and U.S. Rep. Saxby Chambliss; Iowa U.S. Rep. Greg Ganske, who hopes to unseat Democratic incumbent Tom Harkin; former St. Paul, Minn. Mayor Norm Coleman, who's attempting to replace Democratic incumbent Paul Wellstone; former Missouri U.S. Rep. James Talent, who will be up against Democratic incumbent Jean Carnahan, and the winner of the New Hampshire Republican primary between incumbent Sen. Bob Smith and U.S. Rep. John E. Sununu.

E-mail a news tip to Christine Hall.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.