WASHINGTON—Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's credibility was called into question Tuesday by both Democrats and Republicans over his stance on abortion after a rival presidential campaign leaked records showing that he'd donated money to Planned Parenthood, a leading abortion provider.
On the stump, Giuliani has said that he personally opposes abortion but thinks that the law should preserve a woman's choice. His campaign is testing conventional wisdom that a Republican who supports legal abortion can't win the presidential nomination.
The test got harder Tuesday, as Giuliani's opponents and critics demanded that he square his loathing of abortion with donations totaling $900 that he made to Planned Parenthood in 1993, 1994, 1998 and 1999.
News of the donations came on the heels of a Republican presidential debate last week in which Giuliani said it would be "OK" if the Supreme Court struck down the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion.
"Rudy Giuliani should explain these inconsistencies," said Stacie Paxton, a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman. "How can Giuliani portray himself as a strong leader if his credibility on an issue important to voters is always under question?"
In an interview Tuesday with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, Giuliani said the donations were consistent with his views on abortion because Planned Parenthood provided information to people about pregnancy choices.
"I disagree with it (abortion). I think it's wrong," he said. "I think there should be a choice. If there's going to be a choice, there are organizations that are going to give people information about that choice."
Sensing an opening, Giuliani's Republican presidential opponents took jabs at the only candidate in their field who supports a right to abortion.
Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado issued a statement opposing any such candidate as suitable for the Republican nomination.
"Emphatically, no," Tancredo said. "... If a Republican president of the United States won't vigorously fight to protect the life of the unborn, how long before the trend toward the culture of death becomes irreversible?"
Sen. John McCain of Arizona took a gentler swipe at the ex-mayor, saying in an Associated Press interview Monday that he thought it would be difficult, but not impossible, for a Republican who supported legal abortion to win.
"It makes it tough, because the Republican Party is basically composed to a significant degree by people who are pro-life, just as the Democratic Party has pro-choice candidates," McCain said.
Despite the flap, Giuliani still holds a sizable lead in major polls. A USA Today/Gallup poll released Tuesday showed him ahead of McCain by 34 percent to 20 percent.
Though Giuliani leads the Republican pack, some political experts think that he faces an uphill battle for the nomination because of his socially moderate views.
"But if any candidate can do it, it's Giuliani," said Dan Schnur, a California Republican strategist. "His message to social conservatives is terrorism should be a greater factor to them, not the social issues."
Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University, thinks that Giuliani's campaign is tacking toward big early primary states, including California, Florida, New York and New Jersey—where many voters favor legalized abortion.
"Giuliani's strategy is a big-state, February strategy," said Black, co-author of "Divided America: The Ferocious Power Struggle in American Politics" with his brother, Earl Black, a Rice University political science professor. "His (abortion) position puts a ceiling on the conservative support he can win."
Several religious and social conservative leaders concede that Giuliani's handling of New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is appealing to voters who otherwise wouldn't consider a candidate who favors abortion rights.
"Certainly the life issue is an appealing issue that matters," former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer told McClatchy Newspapers last month. "But saving and defending Western civilization is a moral issue, too. So a candidate like a Giuliani, who is seen as being very strong in that area, is somebody who's going to get a harder and a closer look and the possibility of support."
(The USA Today/Gallup poll cited in graf 13 was based on telephone interviews conducted May 4-6 with a randomly selected national sample of 1,010 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. Questions regarding Republicans were based on a sample of 427 Republicans and Republican leaners. The maximum margin of error for those questions is plus or minus 5 percentage points.)
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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