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Everything's over but the voting

by Dennis Byrne
Chicago Sun-Times, March 3, 1998, TUESDAYTUESDAY, 5XS5

As boring as this year's crop of candidates might be, you can't beat the entertainment value of the conventional wisdom that surrounds them.

Take the wisdom that's being spoon-fed to voters in this year's primary: Vote for the candidate who has the best chance of beating the other party's guy in the November general election. Thus:

Democrats are told to back Glenn Poshard, the only one of the four candidates who is given, by those in the know, a shot at beating Republican gubernatorial candidate George Ryan. Poshard's opponents say you'd better not vote for him because a pro-lifer like him can't win a general election.

Likewise, seers tell Republicans to vote for Loleta Didrickson, because her pro-life opponent, Peter Fitzgerald, has no chance of defeating the incumbent pro-choice Democratic senator, Carol Moseley-Braun.

Of course, forget about voting for Ryan's opponent, Chad Koppie, because he supposedly has no chance of beating anyone.

Here I will raise a revolutionary concept: Vote for the candidate you think is best. Nuts to the pundits and pollsters.

Who can follow their logic anyway? See, Poshard is supposed to have the best chance of beating the conservative Ryan because Poshard is supposed to be a moderate. Likewise, Didrickson is supposed to have a better chance of beating Moseley-Braun because Didrickson is a moderate.

So, Poshard, who has almost the same position on abortion as Fitzgerald, is considered a moderate while Fitzgerald is called an "arch-conservative," whatever that is. (Notice how there are no arch-liberals in any races?) And Ryan, the conservative, has virtually the same abortion position as Poshard, the moderate. That's even though Poshard's record on enough other issues are progressive enough to win the backing of groups that have long endorsed Democrats. Except, of course, pro-choice groups.

More than confusing, it's all laughable.

This will make it simple: Underlying most of this nonsense is the premise that pro-choice candidates always beat pro-life ones.

Which is bunk.

Consider some elections: Of 11 new U.S. senators elected in 1994, 10 were pro-life, according to the National Right to Life Political Action Committee. Pro-lifers won eight of nine open seats and defeated two incumbents, for a net swing of five to six votes for the pro-life side. In the House, pro-lifers picked up about 40 votes, thanks in part to pro-life challengers defeating 29 pro-choice incumbents in the House. Of 48 open seats, 31 went to staunch pro-lifers. Of seven new Republican women elected to the House, six were pro-life. No pro-life member of Congress or governor in either party was defeated by a pro-choice challenger. And in the two races where pro-life Democrats ran against pro-abortion Republicans, the pro-life Democrats won.

In 1996, pro-lifers lost a net of a half dozen House seats, but the House still remained more pro-life than when President Clinton was elected in 1992. The pro-life movement, in fact, was more successful than the Republican Party, thanks to picking up three new pro-life Democrats. And pro-lifers gained two seats in the Senate, including in Clinton's own state, where a pro-life Republican beat a pro-choice Democrat. Pro-life Republicans replaced pro-choice Republicans in Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming.

The most enduring nonsense in all this, said PAC director Carol Long, is the myth "a pro-life candidate can win a Republican primary, but cannot win a general election."

So vote, for whomever you want. But if you're pro-life, you're not throwing away your vote if you vote for a pro-life candidate. You're throwing away your vote if you vote for a pro-choice "moderate" because you think a pro-life candidate can't win.

Dennis Byrne is a member of the Sun-Times editorial board. E-mail: dbyrne

Copyright 1998 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.