Yesterday, I caught Penny Nance, head of Concerned Women for America, by phone as she was leaving New Hampshire. She sits atop an influential social conservative group with 500,000 members and 620 chapters in 34 states. Although economic issues are critical, Nance says “We can have it all,” meaning a strong social conservative who is also stalwart on economic issues. She was generally pleased with the way social issues were addressed in Monday’s debate. “I thought there was no Reagan moment” she said, acknowledging that “the media wanted more fight out of Pawlenty.” Much as she hastened to add that he and the other top contenders, to one degree or another, would impress her members. As for the newcomer, she said, “ [Rep.] Michele [Bachmann] hit it out of the ballpark.” People who don’t know her, Nance said, would have expected the figure that the media has strived to “Palinize.” But Nance is plainly a fan.
I asked if the concerns about Mitt Romney’s right-to-life views that played so prominently in the 2008 race had been put to rest. I was frankly surprised to hear, “The jury is still very much out on Gov. Romney.” She pointed to ObamaCare and RomneyCare as not merely economic issues but right-to-life issues as well. She explained that the right-to-life movement seeks to protect life from “conception to the end of natural life.” The concern is not simply the subsidy for abortion that is in these plans (though that is critical). She told me, “There is concern for the whole spectrum of life.” It is the potential for rationed care to seniors at the end of life that also concerns her and her membership.
She says it is too early for her member to have a single favorite but there are favorites, she told me. She lists Bachmann, Rick Santorum (whom she praised for work on partial-birth abortion legislation) and Tim Pawlenty (“we are getting to know him”). Through the group’s PAC, CWA may endorse a candidate. But for now, like most conservatives, they are kicking the tires and sizing up the choices.