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Alito: the Far Edge of Extreme

People here in the Rocky Mountain West are supportive of a woman’s right to choose. From Arizona to Alaska, in seven of the nine states of the Rockies, we westerners want our families, and not U.S. Senators nor the Supreme Court, making that difficult and personal decision.

A mid-September poll by Survey USA reveals how potent the matter of choice is to both the confirmation of Bush’s supreme court nominee Sam Alito as well as to the important elections of senators next November. The latter could be surprisingly volatile here in the Rockies. From a high of more than 60% in Colorado and Nevada to the upper and mid-50s throughout the Rockies, people out this way are pro-choice–with Utah and Idaho as the only exceptions.

Given that the decision has been made to delay consideration of Alito’s nomination until 2006, an election year, those confirmation hearings and the vote soon thereafter will take on dynamic political overtones that could have significant repercussions on flipping the current majority in the U.S. Senate.

Here in the Rockies, three of our “purple” states will be holding U.S. Senate elections next year. Arizona, Nevada and Montana, each firmly in support of a woman’s right to choose, will have three anti-choice senate incumbents on the ballot.

Senator John Kyl of Arizona will be running. He is the behind-the-scenes manipulator who, on behalf of the Far Right, sunk the chances of Harriet Miers and forced President Bush to flip-flop. The two other potentially jeopardized senators are Nevada’s John Ensign and Conrad Burns from Montana. Ensign, an arch-conservative, anti-choice Republican is from one of the most pro-choice states in the country. Burns, widely considered to be vulnerable in 2006, barely won a squeaker in his last election, garnering less than 51%; and he will be running against the grain of Montana pro-choice voters.

Observers are becoming increasingly aware that if the pro-choice voters here in the Rockies adopt the longtime voting strategy of the anti-choice people of single-issue voting–that is, for or against a candidate based solely on the issue of choice–Burns would be history, with Ensign and Kyl likely goners as well.

To further emphasize the political danger for these and other senate candidates are the results of another recent poll. Taken this month, the Gallup Poll shows that by the whopping plurality of 16%, Americans want their senator to vote against Alito’s confirmation if it becomes apparent that, once on the court, he would vote to overturn Roe v Wade.

No wonder the White House is playing down Alito’s past decisions and opinions about choice and doing everything possible to present this Far Right judge as a moderate. In a 600-page Alito campaign briefing book, delivered to only Republican Senators, Bush touts Alito’s opinions on choice, privacy, and discrimination as somehow mainstream.

Another episode in the “Alito is a moderate” campaign is a recent press briefing by Montana’s former governor, Mark Racicot, who assures Montanans and westerners about Alito. It is an attempt to run downfield blocking for endangered senators, and is all about hoping westerners won’t remember that Alito has made past decisions so extreme that they were overturned by both the third circuit as well by Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court.

Alito’s out-of-the-mainstream conservatism may well imperil the three U.S. Senate incumbents who are up for re-election in the pro-choice states of the Rocky Mountain West.

PAT WILLIAMS is a former congressman from Montana and teaches at the University of Montana in Missoula and the Center for the Rocky Mountain West.