NOW Again Attacks Obama's Illinois Voting Record on Abortion Bills

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A national women's rights group supporting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) distributed an e-mail yesterday accusing Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) of being soft on abortion rights, revisiting an eleventh-hour attack that some analysts credited with swaying female voters in New Hampshire.

The e-mail from Rosemary J. Dempsey, president of the Connecticut National Organization for Women, told members that Obama's record during his time in the Illinois Senate included several instances in which he voted "present" instead of yes or no on abortion-related legislation.

The e-mail quotes Bonnie Grabenhofer, the president of Illinois NOW, as saying that "voting present on those bills was a strategy that Illinois NOW did not support," and adding: "We made it clear at the time that we disagreed with the strategy. . . . Voting present doesn't provide a platform from which to show leadership and say with conviction that we support a woman's right to choose and these bills are unacceptable."

The Clinton campaign has made the same charge repeatedly over the past year.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), an Obama supporter, sent out a reply to the NOW e-mail yesterday afternoon, defending his record on abortion and criticizing the e-mail as an effort to "to falsely attack and artificially divide us."

"The facts are clear -- in the Illinois state senate, choice advocates asked strong pro-choice legislators like Senator Obama to vote 'present' on Republican-designed bills like a ban on partial birth abortion to protect a woman's right to choose," she wrote. "Senator Obama has always had a 100 percent pro-choice rating, and he is the only candidate running for President who stood up and spoke out when South Dakota passed an incredibly restrictive ban on abortion."

The e-mail was one of a handful of last-minute gambits launched by independent groups from both parties to try to influence voters who will caucus or go to the polls in 24 states today. While independent groups have played an increasingly prominent role in presidential campaigns -- often stepping in to attack a rival so the candidate can keep his or her hands clean -- this Super Tuesday may ultimately be remembered for the paucity of spending by outside groups.

Labor unions that were heavily involved in the early Democratic primary battles have scaled back their efforts, according to spending reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Obama has been the beneficiary of a group called PowerPAC, which has paid for phone banks and newspaper ads in a handful of states with contests today.

Conservative groups have also weighed in. Citizens United Political Victory Fund sponsored a television ad that criticized the Republican front-runner, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), as being "surprisingly liberal." A group supporting former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee called Trust Huckabee has paid for automated phone calls in several key states.

But in the closing hours before today's primaries, political analysts said the level of activity has been decidedly low-key.

"Groups are probably a little more hesitant to get involved in battles between members of their own party," said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of Campaign Media Analysis Group, who tracks spending on political advertising. "The real power players are sitting on the sidelines with a heap of cash, waiting until they can kick into general election mode."

The identities of those groups have mostly remained under wraps. However, Internal Revenue Service reports filed last week show that billionaire George Soros has invested $2.5 million in a recently formed political organization called Fund for America. The group was organized by Taco Bell heir Rob McKay, Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta and Anna Burger of the Service Employees International Union.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company