Conservatives: On Abortion, Best Defense Is Good Offense
Anti-abortion voters say they're increasingly frustrated as top Republican Senate candidates refuse to stake out clear positions and put at risk the party's chances of winning a majority in the chamber this year.
"When you're playing defense you're going to have a hard time winning," Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican who ran for president in 2012 and may again in 2016, said in an interview.
Asked about specific races, Santorum refused to criticize any candidates by name, saying "you've seen campaign after campaign in which candidates have tried to duck and hide and avoid the issue."
Less than six weeks from Election Day, Republicans say this is their best chance to win the Senate majority for the first time in a decade. Yet the party's candidates seeking seats in Colorado, Minnesota, Virginia and North Carolina -- all but one, states that President Barack Obama won in 2012 -- have backed over-the-counter sales of birth control as way to counter Democrats who are using abortion issues to accuse Republicans of a "war on women."
A spotlight is on the abortion issue this weekend at the 2014 Value Voters Summit, which is hosted by the Family Research Council, a group that supports anti-abortion positions.
U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, both potential presidential candidates in 2016, highlighted abortion during their speeches to the audience.
"No civilization can long endure that does not respect life from the not-yet born to life's last breath," Paul said to applause.
"I've held one and a half pound babies in my hand," Paul continued. "I've seen them sucking their thumbs in an ultrasound. And I've seen surgeons operate on babies still in the womb. So don't tell me that five and six pound babies have no rights simply because they're not born."
Cruz said Democrats were an "extreme" party that supports "abortion inducing drug."
"There are people in Washington who say Republicans, to win, have to abandon values," Cruz said during his speech.
"No way!" a woman yelled in the audience. "A lie!"
"You're exactly right," Cruz said. "Look, our values are who we are. Our values are why we're here. And our values are fundamentally American."
Democrats in Colorado and Virginia have used Republican support for the so-called personhood amendment, which attempts to define fetuses as people to limit abortion rights, as an example of a "war on women." Republicans there -- Cory Gardner in Colorado and Ed Gillespie in Virginia -- have countered by pointing to support for easy access to birth control.
"We need some Republicans willing to stand up and quit worrying about which way the wind is blowing," said Ron Goss, a 69-year-old Virginia voter attending the conference. "I couldn't give a flip about a politician who compromises his pro-life convictions to try to get a vote."
Bryan Fischer, director of issues analysis for the American Family Association, which co-sponsors the summit, said he conservative voters will stay home in states where Republican candidates try to split the difference and say women should have easier access to birth control.
"They've used up all their chits," Fischer said in an interview. "The Republican Party establishment has absolutely no clue how agitated the base with them on value issues."