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GOP Hopefuls Court Conservatives : Politics: Five presidential aspirants attend activists' conference. Poll shows that support of party's right wing is up for grabs.

February 12, 1995|ROBERT SHOGAN | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

The activists in attendance roundly cheered two 1996 prospects who still have not decided whether to run and who are not given much of a chance if they do: Dornan and Buchanan. Dornan, who was recently disciplined by the House for contending that Clinton had given "aid and comfort" to North Vietnam by avoiding military service, repeated his controversial remarks, then asked the audience: "Should I run?"

The response was a thunderous yes.

Buchanan delivered a populist polemic in which he denounced the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the North American Free Trade Agreement. He also criticized the United Nations, abortion rights and the financial "bailout" of Mexico. Referring to the current GOP platform provision opposing abortion, Buchanan declared: "Anyone who tries to rip that plank out of the platform will have to go over Pat Buchanan."

The possibility that the GOP might modify its opposition to abortion, along with concern that the GOP "contract with America" stresses economic reforms more than social issues, is contributing to the restiveness on the right.

Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, warned that conservative Christians would abandon the GOP in 1996 unless its candidates for President and vice president oppose abortion.

The ambiguity clouding the conservative horizon was reflected in a straw poll released by conference officials. Of the 400 attendees who participated, 40% rated Gramm as their first choice for President. Dole came in second with 12%.

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