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Democrats woo abortion rights activists

Candidates say Bush nominees would seek to overturn Roe

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

Sen. John Kerry
Sen. John Kerry

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Predicting the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling will be overturned if President Bush is re-elected in 2004, Democrats vying to unseat him urged abortion rights activists Tuesday to open their checkbooks and help ensure his defeat.

Seven of the nine Democratic presidential candidates put aside their intra-party squabbling -- for the most part -- and warned EMILY's List donors that Bush would use an opening on the U.S. Supreme Court, expected within the next few years, to tip the balance in opposition to abortion rights.

Bush has said he does not impose a litmus test on judicial nominees. However, he ran for the White House on an anti-abortion platform, and many political observers said they expect his top judicial nominees would reflect that view.

EMILY's List recruits Democratic women who favor abortion rights and helps finance their campaigns. The group has not endorsed any Democrats in the 2004 presidential primary race and, by several accounts, is unlikely to do so.

"If George Bush is re-elected, you can about be certain that in six years, Roe v. Wade will be gone, affirmative action will be gone, and the extreme political agenda that this group has advocated will be ensconced in civil society," said former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois.

Other Democrats were even more blunt.

"These judges, some of these judges, that come out of the White House, they will take your rights away. It is no more complicated than that," said U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. "And if we as Democrats don't have the backbone to stand up and fight this fight, we don't stand for anything."

Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun
Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun

Edwards is the only presidential candidate who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the main battleground for Bush's judicial nominations.

Some candidates cited nominees who recently have raised the ire of Senate Democrats with writings that appear to challenge abortion and women's rights.

Democrats are targeting the nomination of James Leon Holmes to a district court judgeship in Arkansas. Holmes once wrote in a religious journal that "as the church subordinates herself to Christ, in that manner the wife is to subordinate herself to her husband," a close paraphrase of a Bible verse, Ephesians 5:24.

Holmes also once compared the abortion-rights movement to Nazi Germany.

"We can laugh at some of this stuff, but that is downright offensive," said U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. "That is not the America I love and those are not the type of judges I will nominate, I promise that. ... They talk about compassion, but then they go ahead and try to pack our courts with judges who are trying to take away the rights of Americans, particularly the rights of women."

Democrats also sharpened their general line of attack on Bush on issues such as his handling of post-war Iraq.

"I come from the inner-city of Cleveland, and I know where weapons of mass destruction are," said U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. "Joblessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. Homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Poor health care is a weapon of mass destruction, and when the government lies to the American people, that is a weapon of mass destruction."

In a reference to Bush's recent landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, said, "I know something about aircraft carriers. And I can't wait to tell this country that landing on an aircraft carrier doesn't make up for the lack of an economic plan or a security plan for the United States of America."

Some Democrats have criticized Bush's landing on the Lincoln as a campaign event. Bush later spoke to the nation from the deck of the carrier, declaring that major combat in Iraq was over.

Kerry also bemoaned his party's drift toward the political middle and the notion that Democrats must do so to win in 2004.

"We don't need a Democratic Party that says to the Republicans, 'Oh, yes, but a little slower.' We don't need to say to them, 'Yes, but a little bit less,' " the senator from Massachusetts said.

"We don't need a Democratic Party that turns its back on 50 years of accomplishments and lacks ambition. We don't need in America a second Republican Party, and I will run as a Democrat that offers this country real choices."

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said his campaign had three goals: "I want to take this party back, so that we're proud of who we are again. I want to take this country back because we've moved too far to the right. And I want to take the White House back."

Two candidates, U.S. Sen. Bob Graham of Florida and the Rev. Al Sharpton, did not attend the Tuesday morning event.

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