MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Now, to the U.S. presidential race and an important endorsement in the Republican field. The National Right to Life Committee has thrown its support to former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee. The endorsement surprised some observers because Thompson does not support the Human Life Amendment that has been the movement's central goal for decades.
NPR's David Greene reports this is another sign of division among social conservatives.
DAVID GREENE: Social conservatives have been as vocal as ever in recent days but not as harmonious. Televangelist Pat Robertson said he's backing former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Paul Weyrich, the founder of the Moral Majority, said Mitt Romney is his man. Conservative Kansas Senator Sam Brownback ended his presidential campaign endorsing rival John McCain. And today, David O'Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee said his group is backing Fred Thompson.
Mr. DAVID O'STEEN (Executive Director, National Right to Life Committee): This is the first endorsement in the Republican race from a major grassroots pro-life organization, representing 50 state organizations and about 3,000 chapters. And it's been done after much consideration, much study. We have been watching this race since January.
GREENE: O'Steen said his group pored over voting records and positions on abortion but also weighed electability. And O'Steen made it clear he wanted to prevent the nomination of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Mr. O'STEEN: Rudy Giuliani has not changed his position. He is running as a pro-abortion candidate. I would assume he's expressing his views, and he's been consistent with that.
GREENE: Thompson has been playing up consistency in his ads of late.
(Soundbite of campaign ad)
Mr. FRED THOMPSON (Former Senator; Republican Presidential Candidate): You know, I've been a conservative all my life. I grew up in a little hometown just like this and I'm proud to have 100 percent pro-life voting record.
GREENE: But on NBC's "Meet the Press" nine days ago, Thompson struggled with the question of when life begins. He had said in 1994, that he wasn't sure. But in the recent interview, he said he now believes life begins at conception. Thompson also said he remains opposed to a constitutional amendment outlying abortion and thought it more pragmatic to leave the question to the states.
Mr. THOMPSON: I think people ought to be free at state and local levels to make decisions that even Fred Thompson disagrees with. That's what freedom is all about. And I think the diversity we have among the states, the system of federalism we have where power is divided between the state and the federal government is - has served us very, very well. I think that's true of abortion.
GREENE: O'Steen said his group found Mitt Romney too inconsistent on the abortion issue. He also said they faulted McCain on embryonic stem cell research and regarded the other contenders as long shots — too underfunded to catch Giuliani.
Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist, said that in the last few elections, social conservatives had a clear choice.
Mr. WHIT AYRES (Republican Strategist): George Bush combined a perspective that was very familiar to social conservatives and an ability to win and raise millions and millions of dollars.
GREENE: But when asked which Republican could accomplish that now, Ayres replied…
Mr. AYRES: Nobody, which is why social conservatives are fractured at the moment.
GREENE: Still, Ayres insisted the party is not too worried about where social conservatives will be by next fall. Hillary Clinton, he said, remains social conservatives' best hope for a rallying cry.
David Greene, NPR News, Washington.
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