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McCain Opens Mouth on Abortion, Inserts Foot

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In the Republican party, walking the middle way on abortion is more like a jog through the gauntlet, and with John McCain it didnít take much to set the clubs a-swinging. "I'd love to see a point where [Roe vs. Wade] is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary," McCain told the San Francisco Chronicle on a left-coast campaign trip. "But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to undergo illegal and dangerous operations." Gasp. A statement that wouldnít arouse much ire with sociologists (or certainly moderate San Franciscans) suddenly had the GOPís right wing up in arms. McCain, after 17 years of opposing abortion in the Senate, suddenly found himself first vainly fudging on CNN Sunday night, and then writing an abashed letter Tuesday to National Right to Life Committee president Wanda Franz. "I share our common goal of reducing the staggering number of abortions currently performed in this country and overturning the Roe vs. Wade decision," McCain said. "I truly hope this clarifies any ambiguity on my position."

It didnít. "This was something of a blunder," says TIME congressional correspondent Jay Carney. "First of all, McCain forgot that thereís no such thing as a regional press. Whatever he tells the Chronicle, he tells New Hampshire, and South Carolina Ė- and he canít afford to be that fat a target for conservative Republicans." And thatís not the worst of it. This goof, says Carney, was particularly bad because it was McCain that made it. "McCainís central appeal is that he doesnít pander, doesnít flip-flop, shoots straight and consequences be damned," he says. "Now some of that is gone, and heís angered the right too."

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