Ben Tribbett declares flat out that it's time to take on McDonnell on this issue. Ben also points out the obvious, that it's far more risky to fail to motivate your base. And August is exactly the time to do so because that's when your base is actually the only one listening. You want to fire up the activists or they won't be there to knock on doors, or phonebank for you in September and October when everybody else finally begins to pay attention.
Meanwhile, Shaun Kenney, former communications director for the RPV, leading conservative blogger, and very smart political strategist, is claiming, over at Bearing Drift, that Creigh Deeds embracing the issue of abortion is a strategy that will fail. He says:
Convincing women that McDonnell is somehow out of the mainstream on abortion is like one horse bucking a national freight train. Gallup polls are showing Americans to be majority pro-life for the first time in the history of modern polling.Actually, one Gallup poll did find, back in May, that more than half of Americans self-identified as pro-life. But even if 51 percent termed themselves pro-life, that still means 49 percent do not consider themselves pro-life. Given that there is always a statistical margin of error, this means that nationally the country is divided on the issue, not pro-life by a solid majority. But reading that particular poll was tricky at best, as the New York Times pointed out right after it was released:
In advance of President Obama’s speech at Notre Dame last weekend, Gallup released a poll showing that for the “first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.” This was based on a question that asked respondents if they consider themselves “pro-choice” or “pro-life.” The poll found 51 percent saying they were “pro-life,” up 7 points from a year ago to a new high.In addition to that ambivalence, the public actually expresses quite a bit of doubt on this divisive issue. In that same Gallup Poll, here's the actual breakdown of the way the respondents, who called themselves pro-life by 51 percent, actually answered specific questions on when abortion should be available: 22 percent said it should always be legal, 23 percent said it should never be legal, and 53 percent said it should be legal in some cases.
That is a significant change.
But a close look at polls that ask a similar question reveals that responses to this question move around a bit. CNN asked the same question in April, and found the “pro-choice” response ahead by 4 points, but the “pro-life” response was ahead by 5 points a couple of years ago. Fox News polls have found the “pro-life” response ahead, “pro-choice” ahead, and the two tied in various polls throughout the years.
That means the most adamant positions were at the margins of both left and right, with the vast majority favoring neither a total ban on nor unlimited access to abortion. Most people seem to be in the middle, understanding that while abortion is tragic, it sometimes is the best of some really terrible choices a woman might have to make. One thing that's certain is that at less than a quarter favoring a total ban on abortion, the true hard right anti-abortion stand of Bob McDonnell, who opposes it even in the case of rape or incest, is definitely not the mainstream position that conservatives like Kenney or Chris Beer, whom he quotes, believe it to be.
And, in fairness, neither is the abortion on demand view a mainstream one. The majority of Americans are troubled by abortion and have a nuanced opinion of it. That, by the way, reflects my own view (in the interest of full disclosure I have to say that although I am basically pro-choice, it is not without great ambivalence).
Having said that, the Washington Post article, although it considers Deeds' strategy to bring the abortion debate into the election a risky one, admits that in Virginia, it could make sense. (The emphasis is mine)
The early statewide pitch by Deeds is a bold gamble that the demographics and politics of Virginia have shifted so quickly and decisively that raising a divisive issue such as abortion, which Republicans attempted to use to their advantage for much of this decade, is now favorable to Democrats. Although advocates on both sides of the issue rank Virginia as one of the more restrictive states on abortion, a Washington Post poll in September found that 60 percent of Virginia voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, a number that has not changed significantly in recent years.The key take home point here is that Republicans indeed used the abortion issue throughout most of the 1990s and earlier, when they thought it gave them the winning advantage. As their most socially conservative candidates began losing elections in the Northern Virginia suburbs, they began downplaying the issue and even objecting when Democrats brought it up. They had no such shyness, though, about using the abortion issue when the state truly was more conservative on the issue.
I also disagree with the Post's assessment that it is risky at all to bring it up. Although the two reporters point out that Mark Warner and Tim Kaine did not make abortion a center piece of their campaigns and David Poisson was quoted in the article as believing it should not be a key issue, I'm not sure that view is the best for this year's campaign, even if it was effective in 2005 and 2001. Here's why.
When Mark Warner ran against Mark Earley, Earley did not try to present himself as moderate on social issues. Further, even though the issue wasn't at the center of the campaign, most voters knew that Warner was the pro-choice candidate, so he never exactly tried to hide his position. Also, back then, fewer Virginians were pro-choice.
Then, when Kaine ran, he actually wasn't pro-choice. At best, he simply believed that he shouldn't impose his personal beliefs on the rest of the state. That was also his position on the death penalty, which he personally opposes but still carries out. He took a principled and consistent position, whether you agree with him or not. He did not impose his personal and religious beliefs on social issues on those who disagreed with him. But he certainly wasn't an impassioned defender of abortion rights either.
By the way, if we're talking about injecting social issues into a campaign, somebody should point out that Jerry Kilgore most certainly attempted to make hay out of Kaine's opposition to the death penalty, although it was never in danger of being repealed. So, it's obvious that Republicans will bring up all sorts of social issues if they sense it will motivate their base, scare the voters, or otherwise work to their advantage.
As for Poisson, he ran for his seat against Dick Black who, as the Post admitted, was "largely defined by his opposition to abortion." In other words, Poisson did not need to bring it up. Dick Black was notorious for his extremism and certainly wasn't trying to present himself as a moderate. There was no question of Black attempting to rebrand himself in that race. So comparing Poisson's winning strategy to this year's gubernatorial race is pretty much an apples and oranges exercise.
In fact, the real issue isn't abortion, it's who is the real Bob McDonnell.
He is now running from his own position, one which he espoused just earlier this year. And Virginia voters deserve to know where he really stands on every issues, including abortion.
Before moderates and progressives in Northern Virginia, the Richmond suburbs, and parts of Virginia Beach vote for him, they deserve to hear where he really stands, not just on abortion but on every issue that affects them.
Make no mistake, I actually agree with Kenney and other Republicans that abortion will not, and should not be the major issue. It would be a mistake to base a whole campaign on one issue, especially now when most people are worried about jobs, the economy, health care, and transportation. Both candidates need to present credible campaign platforms built around solutions to these problems and their plans for the environment, climate change, and energy needs. But abortion is certainly a legitimate issue to talk about.
And so is the candidates' stands on the availability of contraceptives, which to me is even more important. There are some on the right, most notably Ken Cuccinelli, who support bans even on birth control and morning after emergency pills, given to women after rape. Despite the claim that these are abortifacients, the science contradicts that. What those pills do is prevent a fertilized egg from lodging in the womb. They prevent pregnancy. They do not kill fetuses.
The truth is there are other issues that concern the majority of Virginians more than this one does. But as long as some citizens will be affected by abortion and birth control laws, and as long as they are concerned about this, it is a valid issue to be discussed. And voters deserve to know where both candidates stand. That's more than just a campaign strategy. Telling them where you stand is the right thing to do.