On Nov. 2, Americans will go to the polls to elect a president, 435 representatives and one-third of the Senate, not to mention thousands of state and local level politicians. With fewer than 30 Congressional races considered close and only a dozen Senate races being seriously contested, most of the attention is on the presidential race. This is especially true for pro-life and pro-family voters as the stakes have never seemed larger.

As the National Right to Life Committee has noted (see chart on page 12), it is virtually impossible to have two candidates more apart on abortion. President George W. Bush believes the rights of the unborn need to be protected and he has signed legislation banning partial-birth abortion, protecting infants who are born alive and protecting unborn victims of violence. He supports a ban on human cloning and opposes federal funding of abortion.

Bush’s opponent, Senator John Kerry (D, Mass.), supports abortion and embryonic stem cell research. He tried to reach out to uncommitted moderate and Catholic voters in the so-called battleground or swing states (for example, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin and Florida) by saying that he thought life began at conception but he still favoured “a woman’s right to choose.” The gambit didn’t work, earning him instead the ridicule of pro-life and pro-abortion activists who wondered how he could admit pre-natal life is human but unworthy of protection.

Realizing that using abortion as a wedge issue is not a successful tactic in the United States -even former president Bill Clinton told Rolling Stone magazine this summer that if the election hinged on cultural issues such as abortion and gay “marriage” the Democrats would lose -Kerry turned to embryonic stem cell research. Kerry has repeatedly returned to this theme, painting Bush as uncaring. The Democrats recruited Ron Reagan Jr., the son of the former president who died in June following a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s, to speak in favour of funding ESCR.

Polling does not indicate that ESCR is registering as an electoral issue but two other social issues do. The issue of appointing judges moves the party faithful on both sides. Bush has named numerous pro-life judges to the bench, many of them vigorously opposed by Senate Democrats. Such battles will heat up when Supreme Court justices retire, with two and maybe three expected to leave in the next five years.

The other cultural issue that is resonating with voters is gay “marriage” and although both say they oppose redefining marriage, Kerry is opposed to any measure that would protect marriage from judicial or state-level redefinition.

Furthermore, while the war for Iraq, the war on terror and the economy are the predominant issues, the actions of the candidates and polling of voters does show that social issues matter. During the Republican convention, Bush said “Because a caring society will value its weakest members, we must make a place for the unborn child.” In a Sept. 22 speech at the United Nations, Bush reiterated his call for a comprehensive international ban on cloning.

Bill Clinton might be right that if the election is decided by social issues, the Democrats will lose. At least that would explain why Kerry has fudged his abortion and marriage positions and is now asserting that he holds conservative values.