The Last Stand for a Pro-Choice Republican?

Emily Douglas

If Rudy Giuliani drops out of the race after the Florida primary, what will that mean for the GOP's newly fraught identity? Would Giuliani's disappearance from the field indicate an end to the Party's big chance to move toward the center on social issues?

It's the day of reckoning for Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani, whose campaign strategy has staked its entire raison d'etre on winning the Florida primary. As Gail Collins quipped in the New York Times, "Of course he didn't get any votes in Michigan! How could anybody expect him to do well in Iowa? He had to campaign in Florida!" It's been a convenient excuse for his poor showings (three percent of the vote in Iowa, nine in New Hampshire, three in Michigan, four in Nevada, and two in South Carolina) but the promise of the premise will be tested today in the Sunshine State.

Is Giuliani's Florida strategy sound? His supporters are getting nervous, and with good reason. Unfortunately for the members of pro-choice Republican political group Republican Majority for Choice, who still hope that Giuliani would prove moderate on abortion and other reproductive health issues, the polls Monday morning did not suggest that Giuliani's strategy would pan out. A Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll found a two-man race, between Sen. John McCain (polling at 33%) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (at 30%). Giuliani just edged out former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, garnering 14% of the support to Huckabee's 11%.

It's too bad for Republican Majority for Choice and other pro-choice Republican organizations, for the many individual pro-choice Republicans who supported Giuliani's campaign, and for the rest of the pro-choice community, who hoped that, despite his refusal to stand up proudly and firmly for reproductive rights, Giuliani could at least provide a less socially conservative model to Republican politicians. When I asked Republican Majority for Choice's president Kellie Ferguson last week whether the group would endorse a candidate, she said, "We haven't endorsed anyone, but Mayor Giuliani has been open about his position that he thinks that the right to choose needs to remain legal and we hope that as this process continues he continues to stay strong on that issue." When discussing the Republican presidential candidates recently, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan acknowledged that Giuliani differs significantly from the rest of the Republican field on abortion: "With regard to Republicans, they are all anti-choice and they have all called for the overturn of Roe v. Wade, other than Rudy Giuliani, who we would put in the incomplete or mixed category," she stated.

Indeed, a collection of Giuliani's statements on abortion and other reproductive health issues suggests that though he's not happy about it – "In my case, I hate abortion," he has said – he is not willing to call for the criminalization of the procedure. He will, though, pledge to appoint strict constructionist justices to the Supreme Court. Another bewildering part of his record is that though public funding for abortions was available for New Yorkers during Giuliani's tenure as mayor, he supports the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal Medicaid funding for abortion.

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Sounding unusually eloquent on the matter, Giuliani stated on CNN (see the video below), "I oppose abortion as a matter of morality, of personal morality…I also believe that ultimately I have to respect the fact that other people disagree with that, people who are just as conscientious, just as religious, maybe more, than I am, people whose consciences are as pure come to a different decision. And in a country like ours, I think you have to respect that area of personal liberty." Not a bad outline for the way Republicans (or Dems, Greens, libertarians or Independents, for that matter) who personally oppose abortion can still be pro-choice.

Allocation of Delegates in Florida

How many delegates does the state have, anyway? Even if Giuliani were to stage a shocking win from behind, what would that earn him? Florida is a "winner-take-all" state, but that doesn't mean that whoever wins the popular vote sweeps all the state's 114 delegates. First of all, only 57 of the state's usual 114 delegates will count; Florida is being punished this year by national Republican Party officials for holding the state's primary earlier than allowed. Then, of the original 114 delegates, only 39 are dedicated to the candidate with the most votes statewide; the other 75 are awarded based on majority vote winner on each of the state's 25 Congressional districts.

Confused? You're not alone. Yesterday in the New York Times, Adam Nagourney covered the complex race to accumulate delegates, and not just to win the popular vote in a state primary. Nagourney observed that Giuliani "has long argued he would win by a slow accumulation of delegates, [and] has banked on winner-take-all rules helping him sweep up large number of delegates in states like New York, New Jersey and Delaware." But, Nagourney continues, "his viability in those states will to no small extent be determined by how well he does [in Florida] Tuesday."

A Referendum on Choice?

So, if Giuliani drops out of the race, as the Los Angeles times claims he has hinted he will do if he doesn't place a close second or better in Florida, what will that mean for the GOP's newly fraught identity? Would Giuliani's disappearance from the field indicate an end to the Party's big chance to move toward the center on social issues? If notorious abortion flip-flopper Mitt Romney and choice opponent Sen. John McCain finish first and second (or second and first) in the primary, does that mean the Party has spoken, and it will remain opposed to legal abortion and reactionary on other reproductive health matters? "What 9/11 has given, 1/29 could taketh away," Gail Collins wrote. Let's hope that no matter what happens to Rudy Giuliani on 1/29, pro-choice Republicans keep the heat on the GOP to acknowledge and respond to the majority of Republicans who do not want to see abortion made illegal. For a true referendum on where individual Republicans stand on choice, the results of just one primary will not suffice.

For more on Rudy Giuliani's position and record on reproductive health, check out his candidate page in Rewire's Election 2008 section.

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