An array of Nebraska GOP leaders applied pressure on the state’s largest pro-life organization regarding its Senate endorsement — to no avail.

BY DON WALTON | Lincoln Journal Star

Behind the scenes, the pressure grew intense.

“It wasn’t pretty,” said Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life.

“I figured the next call might be from President Bush or Karl Rove,” the White House Republican wagon master, Schmit-Albin said.

In an all-out effort to prevent what happened Saturday, an array of Nebraska Republican leaders applied a final full-court press on the state’s largest pro-life organization, normally a GOP ally.

But to no avail.

Nebraska Right to Life handed its endorsement to Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, denying Republican nominee Pete Ricketts even the consolation prize of shared support.

The seal of approval from the statewide anti-abortion organization, which has compiled a data base of 58,000 identified pro-life households and hopes to distribute up to 95,000 copies of its voter guide endorsements prior to the election, is a rich political prize.

Nelson earned it, said Schmit-Albin, a Republican who was a Nebraska delegate at the last GOP national convention.

The senator’s strong pro-life voting record and his incumbency closed the deal, she said.

“It’s not fair to hold him to a higher standard or move the goal post because he’s a Democrat,” Schmit-Albin said Monday.

“If Ben Nelson had an ‘R’ behind his name, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.  Are you kidding? They’d be touting his record.”

Nebraska Right to Life is “not beholden to any one political party or religious denomination,” Schmit-Albin said, but firmly committed to its cause.

Others would “love to co-opt our PAC, but they never will,” she said, “much to their chagrin.”

The vote to hand an exclusive endorsement to Nelson was approved Saturday on a 5-1 vote of the political action committee, Schmit-Albin said.

In advance of that vote, PAC members felt pressure from Ricketts, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, former Gov. Kay Orr, former Attorney General Don Stenberg, state Sen. Mike Foley, Ricketts campaign manager Jessica Moenning and others, she said.

Their arguments included the importance of maintaining Republican control of the Senate and criticism about a single Nelson vote, Schmit-Albin said.

“I’m as much for control of the Senate as the next Republican,” she said. “But they should go get a decent pro-lifer in six or seven states, and go after pro-abortion Democrats instead of coming into a state where we have a decent pro-life incumbent.”

Not only has Nelson supported pro-life issues both in the Senate, and previously as a two-term governor, Schimit-Albin said, but he also voted to confirm conservative U.S. Supreme Court nominees and opposed campaign finance reforms that place limitations on organizations like Nebraska Right to Life.

The Nelson vote cited by Republican opponents blunted a prohibition against U.S. financial aid to foreign organizations that perform abortions, they said.

Nelson’s foreign assistance vote, in effect, reaffirmed a 1961 act that prohibits direct use of U.S. taxpayer funds to perform abortions, the senator has countered.

“One issue where he veered away from us did not negate all the good things he has done,” Schmit-Albin said. 

“The list is long,” she said, beginning with gubernatorial actions that included Nelson’s signature on legislation to ban so-called partial-birth abortions.

On the next Senate issue important to pro-life advocates, Nelson will vote this week against a bill expanding federally-financed embryonic stem cell research.

Despite Saturday’s endorsement, Moenning said, “the Ricketts campaign absolutely intends to win the pro-life vote” in November.

Nelson, she said, not only has voted on several occasions to send tax dollars to foreign agencies that perform or promote abortion, but also supports pro-choice candidates like 1st District Democratic congressional nominee Maxine Moul.

“When Pete gets to Washington,” she said, “the pro-life community won’t have to wonder whether it will have his support, they can count on it.”

Nebraska Right to Life issued dual endorsements in Nelson’s previous two Senate races.

In 1996, after initially endorsing only Nelson, the organization extended dual endorsement to Republican nominee Chuck Hagel. That decision followed Nelson’s gubernatorial appointment of a Lancaster County judge who had been a pro-choice advocate.

Hagel defeated Nelson 10 years ago.

In 2000, Nebraska Right to Life endorsed Nelson and Stenberg, the Republican nominee.  As attorney general at the time, Stenberg argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in behalf of Nebraska’s partial-birth abortion ban.

Reach Don Walton at 473-7248 or at dwalton@journalstar.com.