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Schapiro: Women are the boot on Cuccinelli’s neck

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Jeff E. Schapiro

In endorsing fellow Democrat Terry McAuliffe, Doug Wilder alluded to the demographic advantage they share in candidacies for governor separated by 24 years: hefty, if not decisive, support among women.
In 1989, as in 2013, women make up the majority of the electorate. They provided a narrow cushion for Wilder, the nation’s first elected black governor. They could ensure a McAuliffe blowout; possibly a Democratic sweep.
McAuliffe’s advantage over Ken Cuccinelli among women is eye-popping: 19 percentage points in the Quinnipiac poll last week; 14 percentage points in a poll released Tuesday by Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center. (It is named, by the way, for a woman: Judy Ford Wason, a veteran Republican strategist who is backing McAuliffe.)
Women are a boot on Cuccinelli’s neck. McAuliffe, a blustery proponent of abortion rights, plans to keep it there 20 more days. His next big play to the gender bias sustaining his second go for governor: A rally in Northern Virginia Saturday featuring Hillary Clinton. She’s a presumed presidential candidate in 2016. McAuliffe is her long-time courtier.
McAuliffe, like Wilder, has the good fortune to run against a Republican trapped in a record of resistance to abortion rights that has little appeal outside the narrow universe of a GOP convention or primary.
This might not be problem for Cuccinelli, viewed as unlikeable by nearly 50 percent in the latest Quinnipiac poll, were it not for the bigger picture he’s painted of himself.
To Cuccinelli’s detriment, it is complemented by the unflattering portrait of the Republican Party. That is affirmed by the fiscal antics in Richmond and Washington of its dominant tea party wing — and of which Cuccinelli is a charter member.
Plus, Cuccinelli does not have the crucial advantage Virginia Republicans had in 2009: a punishing recession that trumped all issues. It helped focus the anger of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents at Barack Obama. It also diverted attention from the rigid social positions of Bob McDonnell outlined in his now-infamous law school thesis and echoed by those of his bottom-of-the-ticket running mate, Ken Cuccinelli.
Cuccinelli’s steadfast opposition to abortion is faith-based and earnest. He shows no reluctance to use the full weight of his office to advocate or implement even indirect restrictions on abortion. As a state senator, he pushed for full legal protections for human embryos, or personhood. As attorney general, he pressured the Board of Health into adopting construction and equipment standards for abortion clinics that have already forced two to close.
To Cuccinelli’s critics, including moderate Republicans defecting to McAuliffe, this is unrealistic. It is a view confirmed for them by Cuccinelli’s almost-biblical remarks to the Christian Life Summit in Northern Virginia. It was posted to YouTube more than a year ago. On Monday, with the campaign finale fast approaching, it was pushed back into view by bloggers.
“Really, given that God does judge nations,” Cuccinelli said, “it’s amazing that abortion has run as far and foully as it has, without what I would consider to be a greater imposition of judgment on this country. Who knows what the future holds?”
In Virginia politics, past is prelude. And Wilder sees in McAuliffe’s candidacy a reminder of his own.
“The women of Virginia were so instrumental in my being elected governor,” Wilder told The Times-Dispatch’s Jim Nolan.
“Many of them said to their husbands, ‘You do what you gotta do, I’m going to go for Wilder.’ I couldn’t afford to sit on the sidelines this time and not let them know that I likewise appreciated many of the things that are being done by Terry McAuliffe as it relates to reaching out to women. Yes, it did make a difference to me.”
In 1989, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Missouri case — Webster v. Reproductive Health Services — opened the door to state-imposed restrictions on abortion, several of which have since been enacted by Virginia. The ruling was widely considered the first significant assault on the 1973 landmark decision in Roe vs. Wade legalizing abortion in the first trimester.
Wilder would seize on the Webster decision not just as a threat to women but also as un-Virginian, that allowing officialdom to intrude in the most personal of decisions was inconsistent with the state’s limited-government tradition, embodied by, among others, Thomas Jefferson.
Wilder’s advertising consultant, Frank Greer, built a memorable commercial around the issue, linking the Candidate from Church Hill to the Sage of Monticello. More than an implicit reminder of Republican Marshall Coleman’s absolutist stance against abortion, the spot was an appeal to Virginia’s libertarian streak.
It worked.
And McAuliffe is betting it will work even better for him.
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