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Social issues bob along surface of Gov. Underwood's campaign

by Stephen Singer

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

PARKERSBURG -- Corinna Francis stood alone at the edge of a Republican Party rally Sunday, sporting red devil's horns and a handmade placard to make a tough pitch against abortion.

"Al Gore and Satan vote for abortions," her oversized placard read.

"People don't seem to realize this is absolute murder," she said.

Francis, a conservative activist in Wood County, said she's disappointed the GOP is not making more of the issue in this year's races for state and federal offices.

"I don't think they've talked enough about it," she said.

One of the candidates who has refrained from speaking up at campaign appearances is Gov. Cecil Underwood.

Abortion, gay marriage, school prayer and other social issues are bobbing on the surface of the Republican's re-election campaign that ends Tuesday. But he is keeping a polite distance from the hot-button social issues in his stump speeches, despite his success in the Legislature banning late-term abortions and marriage other than between a man and a woman.

The governor instead promises continued efforts to draw jobs to West Virginia, prescription drug savings for seniors, road and sewer construction and what he says has been a productive bipartisan relationship with the Legislature's Democratic leadership.

"My main focus for four years has been on economic development," said Underwood, who turned 78 on Sunday. "Social issues are always controversial. I've made the decisions I need to make."

One result of the governor's dual-track campaign is that he is a walking Rorschach test among some constituents who see in his candidacy what they want to see.

Dawn Green, a Republican Party volunteer in Mercer County, said she backs Underwood because of his position on late-term abortions.

"The No. 1 issue for me is pro-life," she said.

A Democratic lawmaker who has rejected his party's nominee, Rep. Bob Wise, cited a 1998 law signed by Underwood that bans late-term abortions, sometimes referred to as "partial-birth" abortions.

"I do not believe any Christian can vote for a candidate who is not against partial-birth abortion," said Sen. Leonard Anderson, D-Summers.

Underwood has fueled the debate, airing TV ads that attack Wise over what he claims were votes against school prayer, bans on some late-term abortions and posting the Ten Commandments on public property.

Wise has cosponsored unsuccessful legislation banning late-term abortions that would exempt procedures threatening the health of the mother.

Wise also says he voted at least four times to allow a moment of silence in schools.

Republican Delegate Steve Harrison of Kanawha County, who has pushed hard for the ban on gay marriage, said Underwood doesn't need to raise the issues.

"The record speaks for itself," he said. "I don't expect him to talk about those issues everywhere he appears."

Bruce McCoy, a self-described "good Republican," said he will vote for Underwood because he credits the governor for helping push unemployment in West Virginia to 4.7 percent in September, the lowest level since 1976.

"He's done a super job," said McCoy, of Washington, Wood County.

McCoy said private matters involving abortion, marriage and prayer are not proper political issues.

"People have a right to do what they think, not that I necessarily agree with all of it," he said.

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