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California and the West | SEE HOW THEY SPIN: Behind
the TV Pitch

Sparring on Abortion

September 22, 1998|JENIFER WARREN

California Lt. Gov. Gray Davis and state Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, both Roman Catholics, hold starkly different positions on abortion. Davis supports abortion rights, Lungren in most cases does not. Davis would continue taxpayer funding of abortions, Lungren would severely cut state financing. Last week, Davis released a TV ad highlighting the contrast. Lungren responded with an abortion ad over the weekend.


The Script: "I'm Gray Davis. One of the most important differences in this election is about a woman's right to choose. I'm pro-choice, my opponent is not. In Congress, he sponsored legislation to outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. I think a decision this personal is best made by a woman, in concert with her doctor and her own conscience. And I trust a woman to make that decision. As governor, I'll fight to make sure women have that choice."

Analysis: Davis knows that nearly two-thirds of California's registered voters support constitutional protection of abortion rights, so he's publicizing his pro-choice stand. One goal: To solidify his appeal among young women voters, for whom the abortion issue ranks high, and to rally liberals. The ad's timing suggests Davis may be trying to get voters' minds off of scandal-plagued President Clinton, a fellow Democrat.

Davis also wants to portray Lungren as an extremist on abortion--sowing fears about what the Republican might do as governor. Lungren says that while he opposes abortion on religious grounds, he favors exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape and incest. But while in Congress, he co-sponsored several amendments to the Constitution that would have banned abortion in all cases. Lungren says he introduced the "human life" amendments "to get the debate started in Congress," assuming the exceptions for rape and incest would be added later in the legislative process.


The Script: "I'm disappointed that my opponent has chosen to get personal and misrepresent my beliefs on abortion. As a life-long Catholic, I believe abortion is wrong, but I understand the need to make exceptions in cases of rape, incest and when the mother's life is endangered. It's true we have differences. As a parent, I think you ought to know if someone intends to perform an abortion on your 14-year-old daughter. Gray Davis disagrees. I don't believe taxpayers should be required to pay for all types of abortions. Gray Davis thinks you should. Now that you know the facts, isn't it time to get back to the major issues of this campaign?"

Analysis: On the defensive, Lungren punches back with two jabs at Davis' character--claiming that Davis got "personal" in his ad and suggesting the Democrat is avoiding "major" issues by discussing abortion. It's a subtle echo of Lungren's effort to portray himself as the morally superior candidate, a pitch he hopes will resonate with voters disgusted by Clinton's behavior.

The ad also is aimed at erasing the conclusion left by Davis' ad--that Lungren opposes abortion in all circumstances. Lungren denies that and uses his commercial to highlight one area where Davis may be vulnerable:Polls show a huge majority of Californians believe minors should get parental consent for an abortion. Lungren supports such laws; Davis opposes them, arguing that some pregnant minors, such as incest victims, should not be forced to consult their parents. Lungren has an answer for those cases--a provision allowing children to seek judicial permission if they fear an abusive reaction from parents.

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