Among the challenges of Republican presidential candidates these days is how to best position themselves on social issues, given changing attitudes in the country and with no agreement inside the party.
In Iowa recently, nine Republican White House hopefuls vowed to an audience of 1,200 that abortion should be illegal and that marriage should be only between a man and a woman.
But days later in New Hampshire, the state’s Republican national committeeman, Steve Duprey, attended a Planned Parenthood fund-raiser with the group’s national president. And in March, Duprey’s counterpart, New Hampshire Republican National committeewoman Juliana Bergeron, signed on to an effort encouraging the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage.
Those stances are contrary to the New Hampshire Republican Party’s platform, which not only opposes abortion rights, but also includes a so-called personhood amendment stating that a fetus should have full protection of the law. The party platform also defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.
Their activity also stands in contrast to what the Republican National Committee members in Iowa are doing. The Iowa committeeman, Steve Scheffler, put on the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in late April. The state’s committeewoman, Tamara Scott, is the state director for a group with the mission to “protect and promote biblical values among all citizens.”
A Public Religion Research Institute poll last year found that 68 percent of Iowa Republicans and 66 percent of South Carolina Republicans oppose abortion.
A University of New Hampshire poll out this week shows just 13 percent of New Hampshire Republicans believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. The same poll found that 50 percent of Republicans believe abortion should be allowed in limited circumstances.
And in 2014, the New Hampshire Republican nominees for Senate and governor both favored abortion rights.
For Republican presidential candidates campaigning in the early-voting states, the strategy on social issues is complicated — not quite as clean as appealing to social conservatives in Iowa and South Carolina and social libertarians in New Hampshire. That’s because there are also socially conservative New Hampshire Republican activists who are — to say the least — not happy with the recent activity of their national committee representatives.
“When you are in a certain position in the party leadership, you should refrain from doing things like that,” said former state representative Fran Wendelboe, a prominent New Hampshire social conservative, on the actions of Duprey and Bergeron. “Just like it is not allowed for party leadership to endorse in a primary, I don’t think it is right for party leadership to take public positions that are out of step with the party platform.”
Shannon McGinley, a prominent New Hampshire activist, expressed particular frustration with Duprey’s attendance at the Planned Parenthood event. “I don’t expect everyone to agree with every item of the party’s platform,” she said. “It is one thing to be pro-choice, but another to go to an event and give money to a group that will do everything to get a Republican US senator to lose.”
This week, days after a story about Duprey attending the fundraiser appeared on the Boston Globe website, New Hampshire Right to Life called on Duprey to be removed from his Republican leadership role. In addition, Duprey said he realized it was a mistake to attend in the first place.
“For the past 43 years I have strongly supported both pro-life and pro-choice Republicans. I have been honest about my personal position on this issue and deeply respect the views of those who disagree with me,” Duprey said. “However, I realize that I made a mistake by appearing at an event for a political action committee that targets Republicans. I was not fully aware of the nature of the event in advance, and regret my attendance. I remain fully committed to working to elect more Republican candidates in 2016.
New Hampshire Republican Party chairwoman Jennifer Horn said that while her party “respects all views,” the party’s “platform is proudly and strongly pro-life.”
“We will continue to be a voice for the most vulnerable among us and we appreciate that Steve admitted that he made a mistake in regard to this event,” Horn said.
Duprey also said he doesn’t let his own views get in the way of supporting Republicans who disagree with him, as his position requires. He notes that he has served as finance chairman for the campaigns of more antiabortion Republicans, including New Hampshire governors and senators, than he has those for abortion rights candidates.
“I am a ‘Live Free or Die’ Republican,” Duprey said. “Where I have a personal difference in the party platform, I don’t trumpet it, and I don’t make a big deal about it.”