Election day in Virginia is less than two months away, and a governor’s race that already had the eyes of the nation on it has drawn even more attention. Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe are already backed by numerous local and national political organizations all clambering for an off-election year victory. Both sides of the aisle see the 2013 results as a key indicator of what the parties should focus on when it comes to the 2014 midterm elections.
For many, the answer could lie with the women voters.
Currently, McAuliffe is holding his own over Cuccinelli with a five point lead. That lead, according to analysts, is likely the result of a massive lead among women voters, who so far are in favor of the Democrat by 18 points. Political pundit Steve Benen at MSNBC called the numbers “one of the largest gender gaps I’ve ever seen.”
The gender gap isn’t surprising. Abortion and, in a sign of even more extreme political beliefs, birth control, has come up repeatedly in the race. As the election draws nearer, it is clear that the A.G.’s very anti-choice beliefs are leaving the candidate vulnerable. In that respect, current ads from the Democratic camp are going straight for the jugular.
“For 30 years I’ve worked as an OB-GYN, my job is to protect the health of women,” Norfolk Virginia doctor Holly Puritz says in a recent ad, according to the Washington Post. “So I’m particularly offended by Ken Cuccinelli. Cuccinelli wants to make all abortion illegal, even in cases of rape and incest, even to protect a woman’s health. I want a governor who’s focused on schools and creating jobs, not someone who wants to do my job. Who’s Ken Cuccinelli to interfere in the lives of women across Virginia?”
Cuccinelli’s campaign’s response? The ad is a lie, because he doesn’t want to ban abortions in all cases, just every case except if the pregnant person’s life is in danger.
The Cuccinelli camp and their advocates haven’t been shy about making abortion an issue on their end, either. “At a campaign event this week, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe pledged his unwavering — and disturbing — support for abortion providers and facilities in the state of Virginia if given the governor’s seat,” writes a Legislative Associate for Texas Right to Life over at LifeNews.com. The support that Cuccinelli’s supporters find so disturbing is McAuliffe’s statement to reassess the new clinic regulations in the state that are expected to close down most of the abortion providers in Virginia — regulations pushed through due to strong-arming by Cuccinelli.
That Cuccinelli’s views on sexuality could influence policy ranging from birth control to oral or anal sex have become problematic enough to cause some voters to pause. Now, in the remaining weeks of the race, he has made an even more surprising decision to embrace the party’s Lieutenant Governor candidate, who may be the only Republican even more outspokenly socially conservative than he is. “It’s great to be here with the whole ticket. As E.W. [Jackson] said, we’re running together. We’re running hard,” Cuccinelli said at a recent unity event.
Although the election is a state one, the national implications can’t be ignored. The 2012 election showed an electorate that rejected the most extreme of abortion and birth control opposed candidates, shooting down what were expected to be easy senate wins in Missouri and Indiana that instead were lost by candidates who argued that those who were impregnated as a result of sexual assault should not be allowed access to abortion. In fact, over all, although Tea Party candidates did see wins in House races, many of which involved heavily gerrymandered districts, when it came to elections where the entire state weighed in, the Democratic candidate overwhelmingly outperformed.
The Virginia race will show us if that trend continues. If so, those who want to legislate away access to abortion and birth control will continue to be beaten at the polls in all but the most carefully crafted and GOP-weighted local electorates. When forced to appeal beyond that base, however, the outcome may be much different.
Will the nearly 20 point gender gap hold in Virginia? If so, that will show that the women’s vote not only didn’t go away after 2012, but it got stronger. Then we were truly be a force to be reckoned with.
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