Live-blogging: Abortion comes up, finally

Some on the right had complained about bias in previous debates, citing as one example a lack of questions about an issue they think is good for the Republican ticket.

By Alex Koppelman
Published October 16, 2008 2:20AM (EDT)

I've seen conservatives complaining frequently after the three general election debates before this one that questions on John McCain's turf -- or at least what they believe to be his turf -- were not getting asked. One of the primary complaints was that abortion hadn't come up.

This time around, it did, but it may have been one of those "be careful what you wish for" situations, because Bob Schieffer made the question not just about abortion, but about the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade.

Polls consistently show that Americans don't want that case overturned -- McCain does, though, and says he wants to appoint justices who agree with that.

That created another problem for McCain. On the one hand, he wanted to establish his bipartisan credentials on the issue and emphasize that if he's elected he won't use Roe as a litmus test when deciding on Supreme Court nominees. But on the other hand, he needed to assure his base that he would, in fact, make the case a litmus test. His attempt to split the baby by saying that he cared only about qualifications -- but that support of Roe would probably show that a potential nominee was not qualified -- ended up sounding a whole lot like ... a litmus test.

He was able to get back on track, though, by making a disingenuous attack on Obama, bringing up one of his votes from his time in the Illinois state Senate and repeating, in essence, a charge coming repeatedly from the right -- that Obama had voted in favor of infanticide. The Democratic nominee was able to parry pretty successfully, but just having it brought up in front of a big national television audience isn't good for him, regardless of the truth of the matter.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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