NRLC Thompson Endorsement Splits Social Conservatives Even More

The swirling social conservative endorsements of Republican presidential candidates continued yesterday when the National Right to Life Committee endorsed former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson.

At a press conference yesterday morning, Executive Director David O’ Steen said the 58-member NRLC committee voted Sunday based on three critical factors: his 100% pro-life record, his commitment to the unborn and his electability.

“He is well-positioned — best positioned to be President of the United States…for unborn children,” said O ‘Steen.

Thompson came under fire from pro-lifers recently when he recently said he would not support a human life amendment. Questioned on this point, O’ Steen said, “no one can promise a human life amendment” and that it was “highly…unlikely that would come out of the Senate in the next presidential election.”

O’ Steen noted that a President “has nothing to do with” such an amendment and it is far more important that Thompson supports the reversal of Roe v. Wade and “concentrate on what he could affect”, particularly, appointing strict constructionist judges to the Supreme Court.

Thompson runs third or fourth in some national polls but the NRLC cites an October 7 Rasmussen Public Opinion Poll that indicates his status at 22%, one point down from frontrunner Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani, whom directors consistently referred to as a “pro-abortion” candidate, was never an option for the NRLC’s endorsement.

Charmaine Yoest, Vice-President of Communications at the Family Research Council (FRC), said Giuliani’s candidacy is questionable right now despite his poll leads.

“People keep talking about Giuiliani as the frontrunner…but he hasn’t been able to get higher than 30%…that means 70% of the GOP base is looking at other candidates,” said Yoest. “The polls in the actual primaries are showing a different story….in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina…Giuliani has a long way to go.”

Despite his pro-choice record, Giuliani recently received a major endorsement from pro-life Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson, a former presidential candidate himself.

Joseph Scheidler, national director of the Pro-life Action League (PLAL), argued that most pro-lifers could not vote for Giuliani “because it would violate our real basic dedication to pro-life even though he says he would appoint judges consistent with a conservative viewpoint.” He said Robertson “really stuck his neck out” and the decision likely won’t benefit Giuliani much. 

The PLAL does not make political endorsements but Scheidler doesn’t think the NRLC endorsement will be that effective.

“With…so many [pro-life organizations] active and so many taking other positions on other candidates…10 years ago it would have been a much bigger influence, Scheidler said. “Their own members will probably follow it…but there are some 3,000 organizations now…and some are pretty strong.”

Yoest said the FRC finds NRLC’s endorsement of Thompson “interesting” and that “in the end what really matters is the candidate themselves and how well they are able to articulate their vision.”

According to O’Steen, Giuliani did not respond to an invitation to participate in a forum at the NRLC convention in June. Giuliani hasn’t changed his opinion on abortion, O’Steen said, and “as a pro-abortion candidate…he couldn’t stand up to Fred Thompson.”

Earlier this year, reports surfaced that Thompson had indicated some pro-choice thinking in 1994, in comments made in a magazine interview. But NRLC Co-Executive Director Darla St. Martin countered, saying she had visited Thompson in Tennessee in 1994 to discuss the importance of pro-life issues.

“I came away assured he was pro-life,” she said. “He was elected as pro-life and voted pro-life.”

NRLC found that candidates have “distinct advantage” when they are pro-life, according to Political Director Karen Cross. Combined polls tracked by NRLC revealed that candidates who oppose abortion hold about a 6% advantage over those who do not. Thompson’s solid pro-life record lead to his election previously and O’ Steen said he believes the same will ensue for this one.

When pressed about Thompson’s low numbers in certain polls and primary states, O’ Steen said the earlier states “will not have quite the impact” as early polls have had in previous years. He asserted Thompson was gaining popularity, especially in South Carolina and Nevada, and that in an “overwhelming majority” of national polls, Thompson was running second to Giuliani.

Some had guessed NRLC would choose staunchly pro-life underdog candidate Mike Huckabee but O’Steen said Thompson “stood out” as the clear choice. Though Thompson has clashed with the NRLC regarding rules on the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance issue, O’ Steen said the NRLC views this disagreement as incomparable to the lives of unborn children being saved. 

NRLC also represents opposition to any form of euthanasia and Thompson received criticism in September when he was unable to give a clear opinion on the controversial case of Terri Schiavo, who was critically brain damaged and was starved to death after prolonged court proceedings and attempted congressional intervention. O’ Steen said Thompson spoke with NRLC committee members and “clarified” that “where the family is divided, the benefit of the doubt should be given to life.”

NRLC made no mention of top tier candidate Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.), whose changed stance on abortion has received significant criticism from some pro-life conservatives. O’Steen said if another candidate receives the nomination farther, decisions will be made by the NRLC board. He said pro-lifers should “begin uniting” and that NRLC’s endorsement matters more than Robertson’s for Giuliani or former presidential candidate Sam Brownback’s support for Sen. John McCain.

“This represents groups throughout the country…it can’t be compared,” O’ Steen said of the announcement.