By By Sam Youngman and Alexander Bolton - 09/27/07 07:33 PM EDT
NARAL Pro-Choice America is starting its 2008 campaign Thursday night with a reception featuring senior officials from almost all of the Democratic presidential campaigns.
The group has been preparing for this since the last cycle ended.
A pollster at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, Al Quinlan, said he became a “believer” in the group’s ability to move a small but potentially decisive segment of female voters in House districts across the country after reviewing data from last year’s midterms. What makes his faith unusual is that the segment primarily is made up of independents and Republicans.
Last year the group polled in a handful of districts where it played in Arizona and Pennsylvania. This year, it polled in 22 “mainstream American” districts — 19 of them Republican-held — and Quinlan said the results led him to believe NARAL “can swing that election” in those districts.
Quinlan noted that “nearly two-thirds of all pro-choice women in these districts identify as either moderate or conservative, while pro-choice independent and Republican women overwhelming identify as either moderate or conservative.”
Quinlan said the findings illustrate that 59 percent of independent-voting women favor legal abortion in all or some cases. He also found that 34 percent of all Republican women in those districts think abortion should be legal in all or some cases.
Taken together, Quinlan said, those voters represent about 1.5 percent of the electorate that, if targeted well and informed on the differences in the candidates’ positions on abortion rights, could alter the results of a close race.
“There’s an audience here that’s in play,” Quinlan said. “You can swing that election.”
Using the recent polling as a guide, Quinlan told NARAL officials that if they are “smart about finding a target, not trying to overreach, not trying to overstep,” they can influence the outcome of tight races.
NARAL’s political director, Elizabeth Shipp, said her organization’s members are doing just that, using this year’s polling as a guidebook to where the group should get involved this year and next.
“There is not a state that I don’t feel confident that NARAL Pro-Choice America could play in and win with a pro-choice candidate,” Shipp said.
“There are some I would probably think twice about,” she added quickly.
Shipp offered numerous potential House districts the group is considering for its target list in states like Michigan, Arizona, Nevada and New Jersey. She also hinted the group might be going after Rep. Daniel Lipinski (Ill.) in the Democratic primary.
“Who says we haven’t already?” Shipp said.
The group is considering involvement in Senate races in New Hampshire, Oregon, New Mexico and Alaska, and Shipp said she hopes NARAL’s district and state involvement will have an impact on swing states in the presidential race.
Shipp said the group is watching 70 congressional races around the country and would likely become involved in 34 or 35 competitive contests. She said Republicans represent almost all of the seats NARAL would seek to flip.
The press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee, Ken Spain, questioned NARAL’s political effectiveness.
“If the past is prologue to 2008, extremist groups like NARAL that are so rabidly pro-abortion that they can’t even oppose the unconscionable act of partial-birth abortion will continue to find themselves marginalized and rendered totally ineffective,” said Spain, who compared NARAL to EMILY’s List, a left-leaning political committee that supports candidates who favor abortion rights. “The dismal win-loss record of groups like NARAL and EMILY’s List even in last year’s Democrat-friendly environment speaks for itself.”
The executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, David O’Steen, questioned the methodology of NARAL’s polling conducted after the 2006 election.
O’Steen noted that Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research asked voters in several closely contested districts which arguments were made most forcefully against Republican candidates who oppose abortion rights.
“It’s a little misleading,” O’Steen said. “The answers are a reflection of a person’s perception of what arguments the opponents of a candidate have made most forcefully.”
O’Steen said NARAL pollsters could have asked independent and Republican-leaning women which arguments were made most forcefully to support a candidate. Questions phrased in such a way, he said, would occasion completely different answers. He said respondents to the poll might have described the Republican candidates’ positions on tax cuts and national security as the arguments made most strenuously as reasons to vote for them.
O’Steen said his group’s polling on abortion rights has remained consistent over the last several elections. He said in 2006, about 36 percent of voters stated that the issue of abortion affected their vote. Of that group, nearly two-thirds said they voted for the candidate who favored restricting abortion rights.
“The majority of people who vote on the basis of abortion vote for pro-life candidates,” said O’Steen.