GOP contenders: All together now, I pledge ...

By Nancy Benac

Associated Press

Published: Monday, July 18 2011 10:05 p.m. MDT

WASHINGTON — Republican presidential contenders may be feeling nostalgic for the days when a candidate could focus on just one pledge: the oath of office.

With pledges spreading like kudzu on the campaign trail, candidates this year are being asked — in some cases, pressured — to profess their fealty to a whole host of positions: supporting marriage, opposing taxes, reducing the deficit, fighting abortion and gay rights and more.

And these aren't just bland statements of support for broad ideals.

There's a 14-point "marriage vow," a three-pronged "cut, cap and balance" declaration on the national debt, a four-point "pro-life leadership presidential pledge" and a deficit-reduction promise tied to the "Lean Six Sigma" method of reducing wasteful spending.

The pledges, many advanced by right-leaning interest groups, are roiling the race, boxing candidates in to positions that could hurt them in the general election, and pushing contenders to make promises they might come to regret if ever seated in the Oval Office.

Some candidates welcome the pledges as an opportunity to strengthen their support among various voting blocs and to draw distinctions between themselves and their competition. But others are resisting pressure to adopt pledges that attempt to put words in their mouths.

Interest groups, for their part, use the pledges to get their names in the news, and to flex some muscle by threatening to withhold support unless candidates sign on — and stay true.

There are signs that some candidates have had enough.

"I don't know why anybody puts up with it," said Republican strategist Rich Galen. "You just don't know all the ramifications of everything that is put before you."

It's a sentiment that's apparently shared by former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. He's made a pledge not to pledge.

"I don't sign pledges — other than the Pledge of Allegiance and a pledge to my wife," Huntsman said recently.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, who's making a big play for the caucus votes of social conservatives in leadoff Iowa, is at the other end of the spectrum. She's taken a shine to pledges on marriage, abortion, taxes and other issues, and has laid into her competition for holding back at times. On Monday, she signed the "cut, cap and balance" pledge during a campaign stop in South Carolina.

It was a reversal for Bachmann, who had said she wouldn't back it because it didn't go far enough. The Minnesota lawmaker said she would include her own addendum to the pledge — repealing the sweeping health care law.

True economic reform depends on it, she said. "I have the resolve and titanium spine to do just that," Bachmann said.

When former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who's less invested in Iowa, refused to adopt the Susan B. Anthony List's anti-abortion pledge, Bachmann's campaign called it a "distressing" move and said it raised questions about his "leadership and commitment to ending the practice of abortion."

The pledge includes sweeping promises to advance only anti-abortion appointees for "relevant Cabinet and executive branch positions," cut off federal dollars for hospitals and clinics that perform or finance abortions, and support a ban on abortions after the fetus reaches a certain stage in development, among other things.

Romney, who once supported abortion rights, opted to write his own, narrower "pro-life pledge," saying the Susan B. Anthony List's declaration could have unintended consequences.

"It's one thing to end federal funding for an organization like Planned Parenthood," he said in an op-ed explaining his decision. "It is entirely another to end all federal funding for thousands of hospitals across America."

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