In sharp contrast to their colleagues from some other states, a substantial majority of California’s delegates to this summer’s Republican National Convention oppose the party’s current strong antiabortion stand and would favor removing the issue from the party platform altogether, according to a Times survey of the delegation.
In the survey, conducted by the Times Poll, nearly two-thirds of the delegates responding said they would support Gov. Pete Wilson’s effort to replace the existing party platform plank, which calls for a constitutional amendment banning all abortions.
Barely 10% of the delegates who responded to the survey said they support such a constitutional amendment. More than two-thirds thought the subject of abortion should not be in the platform at all.
That stand is at odds with the position of the party’s all-but-certain nominee, Bob Dole, who backs the present platform language on abortion but has proposed adding a “declaration of tolerance” to accommodate party members with other views.
The California stand also differs sharply from that of several other states. In Texas, for example, party members last week denied delegate seats to several prominent Republicans because they do not oppose abortion. Antiabortion activists also dominate several other state delegations to the convention, which is scheduled for Aug. 12-15 in San Diego.
Wilson has been working on various proposals to change the current platform and has not yet settled on an approach, said his spokesman, Sean Walsh.
One reason the California delegation differs from others is that, in accordance with state political tradition, the members were handpicked before the state’s March 26 primary election by a small group selected by Wilson and his political aides in behalf of Dole. The former Kansas senator won all 165 delegate votes in the primary.
In some cases, however, former Dole opponents will be able to go to San Diego as alternates.
Wilson, who has long supported abortion rights, is the general chairman of the Dole campaign in the state and he was elected leader of the delegation at its only pre-convention meeting earlier this month.
Wilson-Dole aide Marty Wilson said the selection committee sought to include all factions of the party in California.
In fact, 19% identified themselves in the Times Poll as “very conservative,” a figure equivalent to the percentage of votes that conservative columnist Patrick J. Buchanan received in the state presidential primary.
“I feel we ran a pretty fair and open process,” said Marty Wilson, who is not related to the governor.
But Jon Fleischman, president of the strongly antiabortion California Republican Assembly, disagreed.
“The delegation is more representative of a Wilson-for-president delegation than it is a delegation that represents the spectrum of Republicans in California,” said Fleischman, an alternate.
Marty Wilson said attempts to accommodate all who wanted to go to San Diego were complicated by the fact that California has 36 fewer delegates this year than in 1992. Under Republican Party rules, states get more votes at the convention if they voted Republican in the previous election. As a result, California Republicans lost convention delegates when President Clinton carried the state in 1992.
Of the 165 California delegates, 123 responded to the survey. Thirty-seven declined to participate and five others were traveling out of the country or could not be contacted.
The delegation is considerably more diverse than Republican voters as a whole in California: 68% white, 6% black, 10% Latino, 9% Asian. Among registered Republicans in California, 87% are white, 1% black, 7% Latino and 3% Asian, according to the most recent statewide Times Poll, taken in March.
The survey, conducted by Times Poll Acting Director Susan Pinkus, interviewed delegates June 10-27.
Overall, the delegation is a relatively wealthy and well-educated group.
Nearly half of those who responded had family incomes of more than $100,000 a year and those delegates who did not answer the survey included a number of prominent and wealthy business people. More than seven out of 10 of the delegates have completed four or more years of college study.
The group is not friendly to Buchanan. Two-thirds said Buchanan, who caused considerable controversy at the 1992 convention with an address that declared a “culture war,” should not be allowed to give a prime-time speech at this year’s gathering.
Asked their preference for Dole’s running mate, the only person whom a large number of delegates supported was Colin L. Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Even though Powell has indicated that he would not accept the job, 29% named him as their first choice.
Wilson was picked by 7%, and Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren was named by 6%. One out of four of those surveyed chose no one.
Only two delegates chose Michigan Gov. John Engler, whose name has often surfaced in speculation about potential running mates.
When asked about specific individuals who have been speculated about, 77% of those surveyed gave Powell a favorable rating. New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman was rated favorably by 65% and Engler by 50%.
Three Californians mentioned as potential running mates had less enthusiastic backing. Wilson had a 49% favorable rating; Lungren, 48% and Rep. Christopher Cox of Newport Beach, 18%.
On abortion, more than half the delegates surveyed said they thought that the “declaration of tolerance” compromise offered by Dole would help his chances of winning in November. Only 11% said it would hurt and 25% said it made no difference.
Generally, though, delegates thought jobs, education and economic issues were more critical to Dole’s cause than abortion.
Asked to name what they thought would be the most decisive issue in the campaign, 37% said jobs, 21% picked the federal budget deficit, 15% said the character of candidates, 13% said crime and 10% said education. Only 7% said abortion.
By a margin of 8 to 1, the delegates said they support the state ballot initiative that would eliminate government affirmative action programs, but only 5% saw it as a pivotal issue in the presidential contest.
By contrast, more than 80% said they considered illegal immigration as a more-than-minor issue in the campaign.
The Republican Party began running television commercials in California last week, accusing Clinton of increasing government aid to illegal immigrants.
Pinkus said the delegates are more optimistic about the economy overall than registered Republicans in the state are.
“For example, more than half of the delegates surveyed say California is not in a recession, while only 29% of Republicans surveyed in the statewide Times Poll conducted in March think that,” she said.
“And three out of five GOP delegates think California’s economy will get better in three months.”
By contrast, only a quarter of registered Republicans surveyed in March said they thought that the state economy would be better three months later.
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California GOP Delegates
This is a demographic profile of the state’s delegates to the Republican National Convention:
18 to 30 years old: 2%
31 to 45 years old: 28%
46 to 64 years old: 48%
65 and older: 19%
Refused to answer: 3%
Less than college degree: 27%
College degree or more: 73%
Less than $50,000: 9%
$50,000 to $100,000: 25%
More than $100,000: 49%
Refused to answer: 17%
Somewhat conservative: 55%
Very conservative: 19%
Source: Los Angeles Times Poll
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How The Poll Was Conducted
The Times Poll contacted all 165 California Republican delegates to the Republican National Convention to be held Aug. 12-15 in San Diego, by telephone and fax, June 10-27. Of the 165 GOP delegates, 123 were surveyed, 37 refused and 5 were unavailable.