The search for running mates continues

SAN FRANCISCO, JULY 20. If labour unions and environmental groups are causing sleepless nights to the Democratic presumptive Presidential nominee, Mr. Al Gore, his presumed Republican opponent, the Texas Governor, Mr. George Bush has to placate members of his party who are against abortion.

Mr. Gore needs to win the traditional support base of the Democratic Party that includes the unions and the left of centre liberals. The Texas Governor, on the other hand, needs to win over the core Christian wing of the Grand Old Party (GOP) which is staunchly anti-abortion. Mr. Bush also has to pick as his running mate a candidate who will be acceptable to the conservative core. Mr. Bush, in an effort to get consensus within the party, was willing to go along with the Christian conservatives on the abortion issue provided this group relented on other aspects such as education. But now an opinion poll of delegates suggests that it may not matter if the Texas Governor picks a running mate who does not have strong anti-abortion views. That is certainly good news for the Texas Governor coming as it does less than two weeks before the party national convention in Philadelphia.

Like his Democratic opponent, Mr. Bush has been quite guarded in public speeches about his running mate. But as in the case of Mr. Gore and the Democrats, this has not prevented the media from dropping names. Mr. Bush has so far only been categorical in saying that the retired Gen. Colin Powell - in deference to the latter's wishes- will not be in the ticket but may perhaps be included in the Cabinet in the event of a Bush administration.

In his search for ``compassionate conservatism'', Mr. Bush knows all too well that subscribing to an extreme position on women's right to choose is going to land the party in big trouble, not just in the big States of California and New York but nationally with the women vote. But opinion polls suggest - and it must come as a big relief - that nearly 50 per cent of the GOP delegates believe that it does not matter if Mr. Bush picks a running mate whose stand on abortion is questionable. Only about 22 per cent believe that it does matter.

If polls at this stage are anything to go by, the ones involving running mates and the issue of pro-life are indeed interesting. Among other things, it shows that Republicans want to close ranks and try and get their person in the White House next January 20. The GOP feels the pressure of getting its man in the White House as it is felt that the party has been away from the Presidential mansion for ``too long''.

The names being bandied about for the Democratic Vice- Presidential ticket are Senators. By contrast, Mr. Bush's preferences for his running mate are, for the most part, State Governors with the front-runners being Mr. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Mr. George Pataki of New York, both with less than strong pro-life views.

The name of the Governor of Oklahoma, Mr. Frank Keating is also being mentioned. Pennsylvania is an important swing State and Mr.Bush will like to have New York in the bag. Both California and New York now appear to be with Mr.Gore.

Mr. Bush has said that he will name his running mate before the GOP convention. He is said to be also considering the names of Senators Fred Thompson and Bill Frist.

The two are seen as capable of giving Mr. Gore a run for his money in his home State. But if the Texas Governor intends to narrow the gap with women voters, Ms. Elizabeth Dole may still be in the running. The former Cabinet official in the Reagan administration, however, opposes abortion.