So, what position on abortion is a greater asset in a national election? Well, you could look at history - abortion wasn't really a sharp distinction in 1976, the first election after Roe, but since then the four candidates to win popular majorities all did so as pro-lifers. Assuming that the candidates' rhetoric on the trail is some indicator of where they think popular sentiment lies, let's compare and contrast their recent moves on this.
First, John McCain:
Sen. John McCain went out of his way to speak against abortion twice today at a town hall meeting before a friendly audience that vigorously applauded a range of conservative proposals. It's a subject he rarely raises on the campaign trail unless asked directly about it...
The first question concerned sexually graphic material on the Internet. McCain segued from that to abortion."I also would like to say one other thing very quickly to you - that is I am proud of my record of protecting and advocating the rights of the unborn. I believe this is also an important issue," he said. He said the noblest words every written were the rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.""Life means the rights of the born and the unborn," he said. "You can count on my active advocacy for the rights of the unborn."He also criticized his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama, for opposing a ban on a late-term procedure opponents call "partial birth abortion." "My friends, that's a hideous procedure. It should never be allowed any place on earth," he said told several hundred supporters gathered at the historic Union Station.Obama has said he wants an exception for the health of the mother.Later, McCain was questioned by a woman who said she gave her son up for adoption and was trying to get him back. She asked what McCain would do to protect rights of birth parents. McCain spoke of his strong support of adoption and also volunteered that he would continue to protect the rights of "the born and the unborn."
Now, Barack Obama:
On June 23, Barack Obama kicked off a "discussion for working women" with a speech directed at working mothers that criticized John McCain for his support of conservative judges, decisions and legislation.But he didn't once mention or even allude to abortion or Roe v. Wade. Instead, he keyed in on [Lily] Ledbetter, the woman whose suit against Goodyear for pay discrimination was thrown out by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision last year delivered by Justice Samuel Alito. The decision upheld a lower court's ruling that she only had 180 days after she was hired to discover the pay disparity and file suit.
Meanwhile, Obama has tried backpedaling so much from his prior record of extremism in defense of late-term abortions that Jan Crawford Greenburg has noted that his current position, if he actually meant it, would require him to oppose the federal "Freedom of Choice Act," of which he is currently a co-sponsor.
There's layers of irony to Obama's focus on equal pay and Ledbetter. One is that Obama himself has consistently paid the women on his own staff less. His followers would doubtless explain that there are perfectly logical reasons for this, but those are precisely the explanations Obama and his followers would deny to businesses. Another is the contrast between Roe, which bulldozed scores of democratically elected statutes without any textual support and created a cast-in-stone Constitutional rule that can be fixed only by overruling by the Court or by Constitutional amendment, and Ledbetter, which construed a Congressionally-enacted statute and can, if there is sufficient support, be overturned by another such statute without the need to get the Court involved. Such is frequently the distinction between Right and Left on judicial business.
But the bottom line of this contrast between the candidates remains: McCain feels the need to cater to pro-lifers. Obama feels the need to cater to pro-lifers and to moderates on life issues. Nobody feels the need to cater to NARAL in a general election.