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Advocates of abortion rights are preparing for battle in, of all places, New Jersey, a state that has long been friendly to their views. The reason is Bret Schundler, who stunned the state’s political establishment last month by wresting the Republican gubernatorial nomination from former Rep. Bob Franks, the favorite among GOP leaders. Schundler opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest, unless the mother’s life is in danger. The Democratic candidate, Jim McGreevey, generally supports abortion rights. Schundler says he would not try to move the state toward any policy its residents did not support. But abortion-rights groups, which usually get to choose between allies in New Jersey campaigns, are getting ready for a fight. “Our objective is to send a message nationally, as we come up to the next round of congressional elections next year, that America has moved beyond the kind of extremist politics that Schundler represents,” said Kelli Conlin, executive director of the New York chapter of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, which is working to resurrect a New Jersey chapter. New Jersey’s National Organization for Women President Elizabeth Volz said, “We are very concerned with how far to the right Bret Schundler is on issues of interest to women in New Jersey.” Leaders of the anti-abortion movement in New Jersey hope to send a message of their own. Marie Tasy, director of public affairs for New Jersey Right to Life, said Democrats are “in for a rude awakening” if they make the election about abortion. She noted that McGreevey, while a state senator, joined many other New Jersey Democrats in opposing a ban even on late-term abortions. “A lot of their positions are out of the mainstream,” she said. Democrats have won 10 consecutive Senate elections in New Jersey since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade made abortion legal nationwide. Republicans have enjoyed success in some gubernatorial elections, but their post-1973 victors — Thomas Kean and Christie Whitman — hold liberal views on abortion, gun control and other social issues. “There is a growing impression, right or wrong, that New Jersey is moving left, moving toward the Democrats, and that the movement is driven by cultural or social issues,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Washington-based Rothenberg Political Report. “If Schundler were to win, there would be lots of people scratching their heads saying, ‘How did this happen?”‘ Three campaigns helped establish the conventional wisdom that social conservatives cannot win a statewide race in New Jersey. In 1994, Democrat Frank Lautenberg defeated Republican Garabed Haytaian to win a third term as senator, warning voters that Haytaian “wants to outlaw abortion.” Republican Jim Courter began the 1989 race for governor opposed to abortion, softened his stance in midstream and got trounced by Democrat Jim Florio. And in 1978, conservative Jeffrey Bell upset liberal Republican Sen. Clifford Case in the GOP primary, then lost in the general election to Democrat Bill Bradley. But Bell, now a consultant in Washington, wrote last week that Schundler’s fresh face and success in Democrat-dominated Jersey City, where he won three elections for mayor, make him a particularly strong conservative candidate. “If Mayor Schundler brings to the general election the spirit of innovation he brought first to his city and then to the Republican primary, there’s a very good chance the governorship will be his,” Bell wrote in a column in The Wall Street Journal. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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