CLARIFICATION-- An article yesterday reported that Sen. John McCain's campaign accused the National Right to Life Committee of using "secret soft money" to finance television ads against him. The committee is using funds from identified donors to its political action committee, which are not considered "soft money." (Published 01/13/2000)
Two Republican presidential candidates used their television ads yesterday to stake out new turf, with Steve Forbes mounting a major push against abortion and George W. Bush playing defense on Social Security.
The Forbes spot, which begins airing today in Iowa, features three mothers and an ultrasound picture of a fetus. "When I saw my child's ultrasound, I mean, there was my tiny child's heart beating, arms waving," one woman says.
Forbes closes by saying: "I want to protect the rights of all Americans, including the unborn."
In an ad campaign filled with talk of education, health care and tax cuts, this is the first spot to put a conservative social issue front and center. Forbes laid the groundwork at a GOP debate Monday night in Michigan, where he demanded that Bush vow to name a running mate and federal judges who oppose abortion rights. When the Texas governor sidestepped the question, Forbes called his response "a typical hedge."
Forbes spokesman Greg Mueller called the anti-abortion pitch "the way you get to the heart and soul of the Republican Party," particularly the kind of voters "who turn out in primaries and caucuses. This ad will move people emotionally. Bush basically sent a message to the pro-life community in the debate: 'I'm not going to make any commitment to you.' "
Forbes took a moderate position on abortion in the 1996 campaign but has adopted a more hard-line stance this time as he aggressively courts Christian conservatives. But Bush strategist Stuart Stevens said Forbes's attack would not hurt his candidate, saying that "Governor Bush has consistently stated his position" of opposing abortion.
John McCain has also come under fire on the abortion issue. The National Right to Life Committee and South Carolina Citizens for Life launched a radio campaign this week that portrays the Arizona senator as having waffled in an interview last summer on whether he would seek repeal of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
The McCain camp responded with a release titled "Secret Soft Money Funds Another Attack Against Reformer McCain." McCain spokesman Howard Opinsky accused the groups of using "old stories" to "cloud over Senator McCain's outstanding record on the life issue."
Bush, for his part, launched an ad in South Carolina yesterday that appears to respond to repeated criticism from McCain that Bush's proposed federal tax cut is too large and soaks up funds that could be used to shore up the Social Security system.
Bush calls older Americans "our greatest generation," and a narrator says: "Governor Bush will save and strengthen Social Security. His plan is clear: No reduction of benefits for retirees and those nearing retirement."
Stuart Stevens, a Bush media adviser, played down the notion that the ad is a response to McCain, saying that "Social Security has always been part of the governor's tax and budget plan. Taxes and Social Security are not separate items. But given the tyranny of 30 seconds, it's difficult to talk about all these elements of the plan in one spot without it being a speed-reading contest."
Dan Schnur, McCain's communications director, said, "If Governor Bush feels strongly enough about Social Security to run an ad about it, you'd think he would put some money into saving it."
Forbes is running a second ad accusing Bush of breaking a no-tax pledge in Texas, although the governor's proposed increase was more than offset by other tax reductions in the same package.
CAPTION: Gov. George W. Bush's campaign released TV ad in South Carolina stressing defense of Social Security.