WASHINGTON, D.C. — Calling their opponents Satan worshippers and savages, anti-abortion lawmakers on Wednesday insisted that Republican contenders keep an intense focus on social issues in the upcoming midterm elections and the 2016 presidential race.
Like many abortion opponents, the Susan B. Anthony List is in search of a White House contender who won’t shy from social issues after back-to-back presidential nominees in 2008 and 2012 who focused their campaigns on the economy and came up short. Several potential 2016 candidates were making their pitches in blunt terms, urging the group members to stick to their principles and fight those who would stand in their way.
Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who is a favorite of the tea party, said supporters of abortion rights chant “Hail, Satan” to silence their enemies.
Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, said those who support abortion rights favor a “culture of death” and engage in “savagery.”
And GOP Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska told the activists: “Abortion is not a women’s issue. It is not a men’s issue. It is not a health care issue. It is a violence issue.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, was due to take his turn later at the group’s gala dinner.
In the 2014 campaign for the Senate, Republican hopeful Greg Brannon of North Carolina stood by his previous claims that pro-abortion rights groups contemplate infanticide. Brannon, an obstetrician backed by several tea party groups, said that killing babies who survived abortions could happen in America, according to a video posted by Mother Jones magazine.
The unflinching rhetoric comes as the potential 2016 presidential contenders attempt to make inroads with the GOP’s socially conservative wing. That bloc – which enjoys outsized influence in deciding the nominee – is open to many of the potential White House candidates but has yet to rally behind one of them.
In a Washington Post-ABC News poll published this month, 50 percent of conservative Republicans and 46 percent of white evangelical Protestants said they would consider voting for Cruz. Huckabee drew potential support among 50 percent of conservatives and 44 percent of evangelicals.
Other candidates who did not speak to the abortion summit fared about as well. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, hardly a social warrior, drew potential consideration of 45 percent of conservative Republicans and 40 percent of evangelicals. And Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., would be considered by 52 percent of conservative Republicans and 43 percent of evangelicals.
The key for these voters is backing a 2016 candidate who opposes abortion.
“One of the biggest prizes in 2016 will be who picks the next Supreme Court judges,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to win the White House in 2016, undo Obamacare, put America on a different path and have a president who defends little babies?”
But Graham acknowledged it will be tough.
“We are having problems growing the Republican Party in a demographically changing America,” Graham said.
Keeping quiet on abortion won’t help the GOP, he said.
“We’re going to win this argument but it’s going to take some time,” he said.
The political debate over abortion shows no signs of being resolved, more than 40 years after the Supreme Court legalized the procedure in the case of Roe vs. Wade. Young people today are somewhat more conservative on the issue than middle-aged Americans but the nation is split on the deeply personal issue.
To help candidates who oppose abortion, Susan B. Anthony List’s super PAC plans to spend around $10 million this election.
Abortion rights supporters, Cruz argued, are ruthless and won’t be easy to sway.
“Arm-in-arm, chanting ‘Hail, Satan,’ embracing the right to take the life of a late-term child,” Cruz said of supporters of abortion rights.
He was referencing protests in Austin, Texas, last year over an abortion bill. While anti-abortion activists were giving speeches and singing “Amazing Grace,” others tried to drown them out with chants.
Such divisiveness over social issues has at times cost the GOP at the ballot box.
In 2012’s Senate race in Missouri, Republican candidate Todd Akin was asked about access to abortion in the case of rape. He said such pregnancies are “really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
In Indiana, GOP candidate Richard Mourdock said “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Those comments crippled their campaigns. Both lost.
North Carolina might offer a sequel, where Brannon is part of a crowded GOP primary to pick a candidate to face Sen. Kay Hagan, the incumbent Democrat.
Brannon campaign spokesman Reilly O’Neal on Wednesday said the candidate was alluding to 2013 Florida legislative testimony by a Planned Parenthood lobbyist. Legislators there were discussing a bill that would grant an infant “born alive during or immediately after” an attempted abortion the “same rights, powers and privileges as any other child born alive in the course of natural birth.” The bill became law.
O’Neal said Brannon was not suggesting infanticide occurs now.
Associated Press writer Charles Babington in Washington contributed to this report.
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