April 30. 2014 4:49PM

Drew Cline: A first for the NH GOP since Roe v. Wade?

Editorial Page Director

NEW HAMPSHIRE Republicans are likely to nominate their first pro-choice U.S. Senate candidate since 1986 and their first pro-choice candidate for governor since 1970. If that happens, it will be the first time since Roe v. Wade that the New Hampshire GOP has run pro-choice nominees for U.S. Senate and governor in the same year.

It has been so long since Republicans had a pro-choice nominee for governor that no seasoned GOP hand contacted for this column could say for sure when the last one was. Former BAE Systems CEO Walter Havenstein, the establishment Republican choice for governor, is a moderate who is motivated by fiscal issues, not social ones. He is pro-choice, though he thinks a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy is appropriate. Andrew Hemingway, the activist turned candidate for governor, describes himself as pro-life, but few Republicans say he has a strong shot at the nomination. If he falls short, Havenstein will become the first pro-choice Republican nominee for governor since Walter Peterson ran for re-election in 1970.

For U.S. Senate, the favorite right now, according to both Republicans inside New Hampshire and national political prognosticators, is Scott Brown, who is pro-choice. Jim Rubens, widely considered to be Brown’s most serious rival despite having raised little money, also is pro-choice. Pro-life candidate Bob Smith has raised more than $200,000, but he generates little media coverage or buzz among rank-and-file Republicans. He is considered a real long shot. Pro-life candidate Karen Testerman is a social conservative activist who has little support in the more moderate New Hampshire GOP. She ran for the 2010 nomination for governor and received 12,787 votes, just 10 percent of the total.

New Hampshire Republicans regularly nominate both pro-life and pro-choice candidates for Congress. Both Charlie Bass and Jeb Bradley were pro-choice, as was Bill Zeliff, who represented the 1st District from 1991-1997. But John E. Sununu and Bob Smith, who both served in the 1st District, were pro-life, and this year three of the four Republicans vying for Congress are pro-life.

Republican governors have all been pro-life since Mel Thomson beat Walter Peterson in 1972, and all Republican U.S. senators have been pro-life since Warren Rudman retired in 1993. And althouth the New Hampshire party has had a pro-life platform plank since 1996, polling by the UNH Survey Center shows that the New Hampshire GOP is not a strongly pro-life party. April’s UNH poll shows that 46 percent of New Hampshire Republicans say abortion should be legal in all circumstances, 40 percent say it should be legal in limited circumstances, and 9 percent say it should be illegal always.

The question is: Would pro-choice candidates at the top of the ticket this year mean anything? “I think the ground will have shifted like on gay marriage,” former GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen said. It would be “a major wedge issue going out with a wimper.”

Others are not convinced. “I don’t think it’s a big shift,” said Chuck Douglas, who is pro-life and who represented the 2nd District in Congress from 1989-1991. “I think it’s just the reality of who’s running.”

I suspect Douglas is right. But it could encourage more pro-choice candidates to challenge pro-lifers for high office in the future. We will need another few election cycles to know — assuming primary victories by Havenstein and Brown or Rubens.

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. Follow him on Twitter @Drewhampshire.