"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Takes on abortion

For a certain portion of the voting population, there is no more decisive, vote-determining, subject than abortion. In the Northwest, that is particularly true in Idaho; and it is especially true in Republican primaries; and beyond that, it is strongly true in a Republican primary in Idaho where a half-dozen candidates stand to split the vote deeply. A very sensitive political match is being played, then, in Idaho’s 1st congressional district Republican primary.

In a sense, there should be no issue. All of the candidates in this race call themselves “pro-life,” and most people would readily accept the self-definition. All of them call themselves conservatives, too, and most non-conservatives would accept that defnition as well. But in such a primary, distinctions are being made now by candidates, as they will be on election day by voters.

That’s preface to the op-ed just published in the Nampa Idaho Press-Tribune by candidate Keith Johnson, which aims to upend the calculus.

Within the spectrum of these candidates, the breakdown runs like this.

The pro-life community considers Sheila Sorensen the most suspect; the Idaho Chooses Life website has called her “pro-abortion” (which isn’t right, either, but is expressive of its attitude toward her; note also comments from Kerry Uhlenkott of Right to Life of Idaho). At the same time, while she has described herself as pro-life and can cite a legislative record that supports it, she doesn’t appear to be running on the issue. (The issues page on her web site doesn’t bring up abortion.) Her main topics of discussion appear to include the economy, national security, taxes, environmental and energy policy – a broad range of interest mostly to a different audience.

Three other candidates – Norm Semanko, Skip Brandt and Robert Vasquez – are in a related but distinctive position. They also call themselves pro-life, and can back that up, but in their cases as well abortion isn’t really a central focus, and the pro-life forces haven’t jumped them as being shaky on the cause. Vasquez’ overwhelming issue is immigration and illegal aliens, not abortion. Semanko’s website mentions he’s pro-life but doesn’t dwell on it. Brandt does much the same; his focus had more to do with property rights, trade issues, immigration and border and national security.

That leaves Bill Sali, the best-funded candidate in the race, and Johnson.

Sali has been tightly identified with abortion legislation as long as he’s been in the Idaho House, which is 16 years. He has abortion-related legislation percolating at the Statehouse even now, as the legislature is nearing adjournment. He is the endorsee of Idaho Chooses Life, the most visible pro-life organization in the state. Sali’s stance on the subject is a clear calling call. His political strategy has to rely on drawing the bulk of the (pro-life) abortion-motivated Republican voters.

What makes Keith Johnson’s latest missile so interesting is that he’s engaging a strategy right out of the Karl Rove playbook: Hit the opposition not where they’re weakest, but where they’re strongest.

In his op-ed, Johnson first takes care to lay out his own position: “For personal and religious purposes, I am opposed to abortion. I do not support public funding of abortions, domestically or through foreign aid and I support constitutional spousal and parental notification laws. While I am personally Pro-Life, I fully recognize that there are widely held and disparate views on abortion.” If he’s going for the hard-core pro-life vote, that last is a risky acknowledgement. But then, he’s trying to change their world view, just a bit.

Then he writes about other candidates. They’re unnamed in this piece, but the first obviously is Sali and the second is – Sorensen or is it Brandt? . . .

Voters have a clear choice in this election. On one extreme, candidate’s zealousness for his personal views resulted in his removal from the chairmanship of the legislative committee that hears abortion bills. His 15 years in the legislature have yet to result in meaningful pro-life legislation. We still have abortion on demand in Idaho, proving his ineffectiveness on the issue. On the other extreme, candidates have consistently voted pro-choice in the Idaho legislature. One thing I know is if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’re going to get the same results. It is time for new leadership on these issues.

(Sorensen, Sali and Brandt are the only candidates in the race who have served in the Idaho Legislature.)

This might just cause the pro-life forces to circle more tightly around Sali. Or it might be the lit fuse on a bomb exploding over the next seven weeks or so.

UPDATE (4/2, evening): If you click on the link to the Johnson web site above, you’ll notice the abortion item isn’t there. Following common blog protocal, rather than remove the link altogether, the situation is explained (as far as we can) here.

The item noted above was located on the Keith Johnson website, which said it was an op-ed submitted to the Idaho Press-Tribune and listed a publication date. (Most IPT items are behind a firewall.) Sunday evening the Johnson campaign, aware by then that quotes from it had appeared here, called to say that opinion piece we quoted had been posted on the Johnson web site by mistake, and that a different version later had been prepared for delivery to the newspaper. Checking back at the Johnson web site, we found the item containing the quotes had disappeared.

Which suggests the approach indicated above may have been considered, and ultimately rejected, by the campaign. Nevertheless it was posted there recently, and lasted for a number of days before its removal. So for now, the point in the post remains, even if only the last remants of the op-ed are here.

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  1. F-Words said:

    Smelling blood in the ID-01 water

    Oh, and Stapilus: congratulations on out F-wording F-words.

    April 2, 2006
  2. rhetoric said:

    What kind of Prolife record does Mr. Johnson have to convince the voters of Idaho. I read this and it’s an endorsement by Johnson to Sali on his hard work over the last 16 years as a legislator. Mr. Johnson please do us all a favor, bow out, and give Bill Sali your endorsement the only candidate with a proven record in Prolife issues.

    April 2, 2006

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