Why is Giuliani singled out for questions on abortion?

Sunday, June 17, 2007 | 12:28 a.m. CDT; updated 5:55 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

About that bolt of lightning that missed Rudy Giuliani last week: Frankly, Rudy would not have been my first choice for divine retribution on that Republican stage. Was the crackle — which stopped the former New York mayor from fully responding to a Rhode Island bishop’s highly personal criticism of his pro-choice views — really meant for him? One doubts it. Messages from above tend to get delivered.

Giuliani laughed it off, and that is the political message. Like Giuliani, many Catholics say they personally oppose abortion but don’t want to outlaw it. Poll after poll, test case after test case, confirms this.

Nonetheless, the political media still get very excited whenever church authorities single out pro-choice Catholic candidates for special scorn. In the 2004 presidential election, 12 bishops called for denying communion to John Kerry, a Catholic and pro-choice Democrat.

Of the nine Republican presidential candidates gathered under New Hampshire’s unsettled skies, only Giuliani was asked to explain himself on abortion.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer referred to an article by Bishop Thomas Tobin in the Rhode Island Catholic that compared America’s Mayor to Pontius Pilate.

Tobin wrote, “I can just hear Pilate saying, ‘You know, I’m personally opposed to crucifixion but I don’t want to impose my belief on others.’”

Does the church leaders’ censure deprive these candidates of many Catholic votes? History suggests it does not — and for examples, one needs look no further than Tobin’s own state.

Rhode Island has the highest percentage of Catholics in the nation, which is why anti-abortion forces chose it in 1986 to probe public feelings on the issue. They sponsored a referendum that would have banned nearly all abortions in Rhode Island if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision guaranteeing the right to end a pregnancy. The voters rejected it 65 percent to 35 percent.

Two decades later, a SurveyUSA poll suggests these attitudes have barely budged, with 63 percent of Rhode Islanders identifying themselves as “pro-choice” and 32 percent as “pro-life.”

Republicans have long assumed that their supposedly “pro-life” positions would permanently peel away Catholics, especially white Catholics, from their Democratic traditions. But as noted, many Catholics don’t fret that much over abortion and may care more about workers’ rights, the environment and social programs.

Though Republicans have made significant inroads into this group, Catholics have clearly not bought a one-way ticket into their base. That was demonstrated in the 2006 congressional races, when 55 percent of Catholics supported Democrats. White Catholics, meanwhile, proved to be true swing voters, with 50 percent backing Democrats and 49 percent Republicans.

Giuliani’s stance on abortion was supposed to hurt him in the Bible Belt, but even there he’s doing far better than anyone would have imagined. Recent polls in conservative South Carolina show Giuliani tied with Arizona Sen. John McCain, a staunch abortion foe.

So it seems odd that Wolf Blitzer didn’t ask the other candidates about their out-of-the-mainstream views on abortion. Perhaps the lightning was aimed at him. Only kidding, Wolf.

— Creators Syndicate

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