TALK OF McCAIN'S No.2 CONCERNS CONSERVATIVES

By ELISABETH BUMILLER Reporting was contributed by John M. Broder in Orlando, Fla.; Michael Cooper and Michael Luo in New York; and Jeff Zeleny ...

By ELISABETH BUMILLER

Reporting was contributed by John M. Broder in Orlando, Fla.; Michael Cooper and Michael Luo in New York; and Jeff Zeleny in Washington.

© 2008 New York Times News Service

LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Sen. John McCain is facing increasing scrutiny about his selection of a running mate as some social conservatives expressed alarm on Tuesday that McCain might ask a candidate who favors abortion rights to join him on the ticket.

But other conservatives said that McCain, who has long been in step with the Republican Party platform in opposing abortion, was unlikely to be the first Republican presidential nominee in decades to select such a candidate. They said that McCain’s recent public flirtation with Tom Ridge, a former Pennsylvania governor who supports abortion rights, was as much to give the appearance that McCain had an open mind on the issue as it was an embrace of Ridge.

“I think there’s such sufficient understanding at the most senior levels of this campaign of the importance of the pro-family constituency that I’m very comfortable with how the selection process is proceeding,” one Republican strategist close to the campaign said. “I think social conservatives will be fine.”

Republicans said McCain would name his choice after the Democratic convention ended next Thursday. McCain’s aides said that no day had been set, but that one strong possibility was Friday, when McCain has a rally scheduled in Ohio.

The campaign has refused to comment on who is under consideration, but current conjecture has settled largely on three possibilities: Ridge, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut and a McCain ally, is also said to be under consideration.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Barack Obama will in all likelihood appear with his newly-named running mate on Saturday in Springfield, Ill., where he formally began his quest for the presidency in February 2007. They will then begin a tour of battleground states leading up to their arrival at the convention in Denver next Wednesday.

Obama, whose campaign is seeking to maximize the attention drawn to his vice presidential selection, plans to announce his choice in a text message to supporters, which some aides said could be sent Friday or even sooner.

Obama will accept his party’s nomination on Thursday night before a large audience at Invesco Field, where he will follow an appearance by former Vice President Al Gore.

Ridge, meanwhile, was the focus of intense speculation on the Internet on Tuesday as associates of McCain said campaign aides had been calling party and conservative leaders across the country to gauge their reaction to various candidates, as well as to the idea of McCain nominating a supporter of abortion rights – presumably Ridge.

Nonetheless, four Republican Party chairmen in important states said on Tuesday that they had not been contacted about their views on a running mate.

“Nobody has called me regarding the vice presidency from the McCain campaign,” said Robert T. Bennett, the chairman of the Republican Party of Ohio, a crucial swing state, echoing comments from the chairmen of the Michigan, New Hampshire and Virginia Republican parties.

Still, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a close friend and traveling companion of McCain, raised the idea of a running mate who supports abortion rights last week when McCain met with social conservatives in Birmingham, Mich.

Graham asked if the group would rather have a running mate who opposed abortion but caused the Republicans to lose or a running mate who supported abortion rights and caused the party to win, recalled James Muffett, a social conservative who attended the meeting. Quite a few people, said Muffett, said they preferred to lose.

Some Republicans said that McCain could still choose Ridge and get around the problem with social conservatives by assuring them that the vice presidential candidate would support the position of the presidential candidate and the party, no matter his personal views.

Such a formulation would be unlikely to satisfy Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio talk show host and longtime McCain nemesis, who on Tuesday sounded a siren for his listeners. “If he picks a pro-choice running mate, it’s not going to be pretty,” Limbaugh warned, adding that McCain would have “effectively destroyed the Republican Party and pushed the conservative movement into the bleachers.”

Republicans said that Romney remained a contender, although the two were bitter rivals in the primary campaign and do not have strong chemistry. In addition, Romney, a Mormon, could be a difficult sell to Christian conservatives. A person associated with Romney said on Tuesday that he had detected no strong interest from the McCain campaign in recent weeks.

Republicans said that Pawlenty, an evangelical Christian, was also a strong possibility. His main drawback is that he has little name recognition outside of Minnesota.

© The New York Times. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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