Campaign Crawlers

No Good Deeds

Virginia Democrats put all their chips on abortion.

By 8.12.09

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The Democratic candidate for governor in the Commonwealth of Virginia, a supposed "moderate," is betting on abortion as the key to victory against his Republican opponent.

Given the population explosion in its Washington suburbs, an area which has contributed significantly to the election of a Democratic president, governor, and two senators in recent years, Virginia is no longer a Southern state; but it isn't quite New York either. Are its voters likely to choose a governor based on this issue alone? We are going to find out this fall.

R. Creigh Deeds, a Democratic legislator from rural Virginia, hopes to pile up a big margin in the northern suburbs, while staying competitive with his Republican opponent, Robert F. McDonnell, the Attorney General, in the rest of the state. After his victory in a three-way gubernatorial primary, Deeds jumped ahead in the polls but has recently fallen behind McDonnell with various polls putting him back 8-15 percent. This may have been due in part to a lackluster performance in a recent debate and the slight deflation of President Obama's performance ratings in recent weeks.

On Tuesday Mr. Deeds kicked off his first of three press events, under the rubric of Women for Deeds, thereby launching what Rosalind S. Helderman of the Washington Post called "an assault on his opponent's record of working to restrict abortions," calling it evidence that the Republican has the wrong priorities for the state. This contrasts, sharply, with Deeds's prior claim that "I've never made social policy a huge part of my campaigns or a huge part of my agenda." He said this at last month's gubernatorial debate. The state GOP has distributed a video of his remarks since repudiated by his actions.

Deeds defends himself against charges of being desperate by comparing himself to…Helen Keller [sic]. "Everything in life is risky," he said. "Helen Keller once wrote that life is either a daring adventure or nothing. So this is my daring adventure…" Are you following this? I'm not.

As a former member of the General Assembly, McDonnell seems to have had the temerity to offer legislation banning late-term abortions, requiring a 24-hour waiting periods before an abortion is performed and requiring that minors receive parental permission for the procedure. Deeds seems to believe this amounts to extremism that will shock northern Virginians.

Mr. Deeds might want to look at the recent polling by Gallup on voters' attitudes on abortion.

I recently described these results on this website as follows: "Amidst the political setbacks for the right-to-life movement, maybe the worst since the 1970s, the Gallup Poll reports that 51 percent of Americans call themselves 'pro-life' on the issue of abortion; 42 percent are pro-choice." This was the first time a majority of adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup asked the question in 1995 which it does annually. The growth in the pro-life numbers came from Republicans and Republican-leaning independents-and women. Women used to call themselves pro-choice over pro-life a year ago (50 versus 43 percent). Today women as well as men are likely to be pro-life.

In this context "pro-life" is a kind of middle ground with 53 percent saying abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances. In other words, most people reject the status quo, i.e., abortion on demand, for any reason, for all nine months of pregnancy.

While the Gallup data are national and not Virginia specific, Mr. Deeds seems to be a bit retro in his assessment of current attitudes on the issue of life. He and his party are putting all their chips on abortion and letting it ride. Moreover, raising the visibility of this issue will fire up the troops in Baptist churches and Catholic parishes throughout the state. Even President Obama tries to fudge the abortion issue, attempting to avoid embracing the culture of death, visiting a Catholic college in Indiana, etc. He has even backed off pushing for a Freedom of Choice Act with its categorical mandates for unlimited abortion and violation of various and sundry conscience clauses in law.

It appears that Mr. Deeds did not get the memo. He and his party are putting all their chips on abortion and letting it ride. They may be riding their electoral hopes right into the ground. Or at least one can hope.

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.