Home McDonnell’s line in the sand

McDonnell’s line in the sand


The Bob McDonnell campaign isn’t taking the attention being placed on its candidate’s record on women’s reproductive freedoms very well, and for good reason.
“Bob McDonnell has also made his priorities clear: He would restrict womens’ access to safe birth control and roll back a woman’s right to choose,” Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee Creigh Deeds said in a statement released by the campaign on Monday highlighting the differences between Deeds and McDonnell on the fundamental social issue.

McDonnell’s political underbelly has been exposed in the past two weeks of attention in the news media on McDonnell’s record on women’s reproductive freedoms. How you can tell is watching how the McDonnell campaign has responded to the attention – by changing the subject.

You could characterize the entire McDonnell campaign as being about changing the subject. I’ll give them credit – they used not having had a contentious nomination battle to their advantage, astroturfing the airwaves with biographical TV ads putting McDonnell walking down a beachfront with his wife and McDonnell and the Missus and the Kids all bounding out on their way to various events that made the Regent Law grad and Pat Robertson protege look positively mainstream.

If all you knew was that the guy named Bob McDonnell in the TV ads was running for governor, and 90 percent of us only know the basics of what we see on TV or maybe in the headlines in the paper or the online news, then you’d probably be surprised to learn that he was even a Republican. Because don’t Republicans have tea parties to call the president an infidel who isn’t even a native-born U.S. citizen and call for the painful deaths of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid et al?

That’s why the McDonnell camp went out of its way – 29 days late, but still – to distance itself from 99th District House candidate Catherine Crabill last week when it hoped that nobody was paying attention. Crabill, you might remember, is the nutjob running as a Republican against Del. Albert Pollard who has advocated the armed overthrow of the U.S. government and suggested that the federal government might have had a role in the Oklahoma City bombing.

The tea partiers eat that stuff up and ask for more – as you can guess by the reaction of local Republicans in the 99th to the news that the state GOP was leaving Crabill to her own devices this fall, basically an extended middle finger to the party establishment and a warning that they’re next.

Now, if McDonnell wasn’t somebody who, let’s say, sponsored anti-choice bills every single, solitary year he was in the General Assembly, 35 of them in all between 1992 and 2005, and didn’t, oh, you know, tell the annual convention of the National Right to Life Committee that elections are to decide whether the people in power are pro-life or not, then what the Deeds folks are doing by linking him to those ideas and to the whole ‘nother degree of wingnuttery that is Pat Robertson would be a smear. Just as it would be a smear to take the record of somebody like Creigh Deeds, who has his own critics in the Democratic Party for his solid support of gun rights and his wishy-washy at best position on GLBT civil rights, and make a blanket statement about him being a liberal.

McDonnell seems to be trying to run and hide from his record on social issues, which is unfortunate not just because you want to see someone running for public office own up to who they are and what they’ve stood for, but more directly because you have to wonder what social-conservative voters think when they hear him trying to back away from his solid record on reproductive-freedom issues. They don’t want to hear his spokespeople talking out of both sides of their mouth; they want red meat in the form of a hearty defense of where Bob has been and is on reproductive issues akin to Ronald Reagan’s epochal “You can’t endorse me, but I endorse you” moment in the 1980 presidential campaign.

Republican leaders have been targets for the grassroots in their party for a time because of their apparent unwillingness to see the aims of the grassroots on social issues like abortion through to the conclusion that they’ve been promsing since Reagan. The Deeds stratagem to hold McDonnell accountable I think in the end does more damage to him because he reacted the way he did, by whining to the press about raising the issue at all rather than saying it loud, that he’s pro-life and proud.

McDonnell has set himself up for some big-time slicing and dicing to his voter coalition as he continues to try to toe both sides of the line in the sand that Deeds has drawn out for him. He risks losing the base by continuing to emphasize the Family Guy Bob that has been running for governor in the TV ads dating back to the spring, and he risks losing the moderate voters who have by and large liked Family Guy Bob by re-embracing his social-conservative roots.

The only thing the McDonnell peeps can do is run more of those nice Family Guy Bob ads and hope for the best.


– Column by Chris Graham



Have a guest column, letter to the editor, story idea or a news tip? Email editor Chris Graham at [email protected]. Subscribe to AFP podcasts on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPandora and YouTube.