By JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — A Republican organization that advocates gay rights is targeting GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in an ad campaign, seeking to undercut his support among social conservatives by highlighting his past statements in support of abortion rights.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has spent months courting social conservatives in key primary states, trying to erase doubts about his previous moderate stands.
But in a 30-second television ad that will air in Iowa and on national cable, the Log Cabin Republicans use clips from a debate during Romney's unsuccessful 1994 campaign for U.S. Senate from Massachusetts to portray him as an enemy of religious conservatives.
"For years he's fought conservatives and religious extremists," an announcer declares.
On the screen, Romney, 13 years younger, is shown in the midst of a debate with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, whom he was seeking to unseat.
"I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country," Romney says. "I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years that we should sustain and support it."
Romney has said he changed his view on abortion after a November 2004 meeting with a Harvard stem cell researcher. He said he became convinced he could not be publicly supportive of abortion rights while being personally opposed to abortion.
"As Governor Romney has repeatedly made clear, like many other Republicans including Ronald Reagan, he wasn't always pro-life," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said. "Governor Romney has said he was wrong and hopes he never stops learning from his mistakes or trying to do what's right."
Madden accused the Log Cabin Republicans of favoring Republican Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York who has supported abortion rights and some gay rights. Leading religious conservatives have voiced their opposition to Giuliani's candidacy.
Log Cabin President Patrick Sammon said his group is not endorsing any candidate in the Republican primaries. Though he has said in the past, that Giuliani is "a very strong leader with an inclusive record."
"Governor Romney supports a federal marriage amendment and so it makes sense that a national gay rights group would attack him," Madden said.
During the campaign, Romney has supported a plank in the 2004 Republican Party platform that called for the repeal of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion. He has brushed off questions about his abortion views, stating: "I'm pro-life; it would be great if we could just leave it at that."
The ad's narrator states that Romney "opposed the gun lobby, even Ronald Reagan."
In a clip of the same 1994 debate with Kennedy, Romney states: "I was independent during the time of Reagan-Bush, I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush."
The narrator concludes: "A record of fighting the religious right. A pro-choice record. Massachusetts values. Mitt Romney."
Though placed by a gay rights advocacy group, the ad is silent on Romney's views of homosexuality. Lately Romney has been running a radio ad casting himself as the only major GOP candidate backing a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. His critics have argued that his views were not as definitive when he was Massachusetts governor.
"The bottom line is this is much more than about gay rights," Sammon said in an interview. "He has been all over the map on every single issue. He quite frankly hasn't credibly explained his shifting positions."