Republican presidential candidate John McCain insisted Wednesday he had not picked a running mate, even as he was confronted by conservative voters worried he might select someone who favors abortion rights.
McCain's back-and-forth with voters at New Mexico University came as Republicans released a schedule for next month's national convention that gives prominent slots to abortion-rights proponents including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former New York Mayor and keynote Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.
The lineup was designed to attract moderates and independents to McCain's camp, but seemed destined to fuel the fight over abortion rights. The Arizona senator has consistently opposed abortion rights in Congress, but never has been embraced fully by social conservatives because of his deviation from party orthodoxy on other issues.
The abortion issue flared last week when McCain told The Weekly Standard he would not rule out as a running mate former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who favors abortion rights.
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Since then, McCain has tried to shore up his credentials – insisting at a Saturday-night forum at Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., that he would be a “pro-life president” and that a McCain presidency “will have pro-life policies.”
At a town hall meeting in Las Cruces, Republican voter Sandy Gaupel asked McCain about the abortion issue – explaining afterward that she wanted personal reassurance that he would not pick Ridge or Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Lieberman, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 2000 and an abortion-rights supporter, most recently was elected to the Senate as an independent and is believed to be under consideration for the GOP ticket.
“I've heard a rumor that you're going to pick a pro-life VP – is that true?” Gaupel asked McCain.
McCain told the audience he would not discuss his selection process, but was proud of his “pro-life record in Congress.”
“I respect the views of others,” he said, adding, “I believe that life applies to those that are not born, as well as those that are born.”
Another voter broached the topic. “Are you going to pick a vice president that conservatives can actually rally around in the future,” the man asked, “or are you going to give us someone who will cause us to want to stay home, perhaps?”
McCain said polls showed he was “doing very well with the base,” and that he would try to energize conservatives with concerns about national security and fiscal responsibility in Washington.
“I will nominate a person to be vice president – my running mate – who shares my principles, my values and my priorities, and that's the best that I can tell you,” McCain said.