All went swimmingly for GOP Congressman Dana Rohrabacher last week at a public meeting in heavily Republican Palos Verdes Estates.
Swimmingly, that is, until the abortion issue surfaced.
"If the majority of the women in the Republican Party and the men feel that you should give us freedom of choice . . . don't you feel that you should represent us?" asked Barbara Gleghorn, a Republican on the board of the Palos Verdes Peninsula League of Women Voters. Rohrabacher, who had been rapped by several others in the audience for seeking to outlaw abortion, snapped: "If the majority of people in my district, even by a great majority, believe that I should kill a baby, I would say that we should not make it legal."
Rohrabacher (R-Lomita) and state Assemblyman Gerald Felando (R-San Pedro), two of the South Bay's staunchest abortion opponents, are up for reelection this year. Though both are ensconced in Republican districts, potential rivals from other parties are hoping that the rekindled abortion issue could cost the incumbents GOP votes.
So far, two would-be challengers, a Democrat and a Libertarian, have said they will run for Felando's seat. Three others--all Democrats--have said they plan to take on Rohrabacher. All describe themselves as "pro-choice" on abortion.
And all but the Libertarian say they expect to make major headway with the issue of abortion--a prominent election issue since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Webster decision July 3, giving states greater flexibility to restrict abortion.
"Congressman Rohrabacher's extreme positions make him very vulnerable, particularly with reference to abortion," said Guy Kimbrough, one of the Democrats planning to run for his seat.
Democrat Marilyn Landau, a former Los Angeles Teachers Union vice president who intends to challenge Felando: "Pro-choice is my biggest reason for running. I'm concerned about what happened with the Supreme Court decision and think we need to have more pro-choice opinion in Sacramento."
At Rohrabacher's Town Hall meeting in Palos Verdes Estates, several Republicans voiced concern that dissatisfaction with the congressman's position could cause defections from their ranks.
Betty Field, saying she was speaking for "a lot of mainstream Republican women" who object to Rohrabacher's support for government-imposed curbs on abortion, drew strong applause when she said: "We feel you may self-destruct."
Despite the unrest, local Republican organizers express confidence that Felando and Rohrabacher are in no immediate danger. For the largely conservative voters in both districts, they say, support for the incumbents' conservative voting records will outweigh any qualms about their stands on abortion.
"I think the voters in those two districts will consider their entire records, and 99 cases out of 100 will agree with them," said Steve Johnson, director of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County.
Rohrabacher's and Felando's anti-abortion credentials are unquestioned.
Last year, his first in Congress, Rohrabacher took the anti-abortion position in all seven abortion-related votes by the full House. In one, he voted against overriding President Bush's veto of a bill that would have lifted restrictions on federally funded abortions in cases of rape or incest.
The override attempt failed. As a result, federal money can be used to pay for abortions only when the pregnant woman's life would be endangered by carrying the fetus to term.
Before the Webster decision was handed down, Rohrabacher joined a group of House and Senate members in calling on the Supreme Court to use the case to overturn the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision of 1973, which established a woman's right to an abortion.
Felando, meanwhile, has voted consistently to restrict state funding of abortions. Observers say he has opposed abortion more actively than the other two South Bay state legislators who have voted with the anti-abortion camp--Sen. Robert Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach) and Assemblyman Dave Elder (D-San Pedro).
"Out of the whole (South Bay) group, probably the strongest anti-abortionist is Felando," said David Alois, director of the Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, a group that advocates abortion rights.
Elder is up for reelection this year, but Beverly is not. With the start of the candidate filing period still more than three weeks away, it is difficult to tell who, if anyone, may challenge Elder.
As of Wednesday, no one has collected voter petition forms as a first step toward qualifying to run for Elder's 57th Assembly District seat, according to the county registrar-recorder's office. (Candidates can avoid paying steep filing fees for public office if they gather a minimum number of voter signatures instead.)
Two people, however, are circulating petitions in hopes of competing for Felando's 51st Assembly District seat--Landau, the Democrat, and William Gaillard, a member of the Libertarian Party.