McDonnell's Thesis Shows Tricky Religious Politics in Virginia's Gubernatorial Race

A Republican candidate's master's thesis from televangelist's university becomes an issue.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell, campaigning as a moderate Republican in the increasingly purple Old Dominion State, spent the week on the defensive after the very conservative master's thesis he wrote while at Pat Robertson's Regent University (then called Christian Broadcasting Network University) came to light.

The Washington Post broke the story:

At age 34, two years before his first election and two decades before he would run for governor of Virginia, Robert F. McDonnell submitted a master's thesis to the evangelical school he was attending in Virginia Beach in which he described working women and feminists as "detrimental" to the family. He said government policy should favor married couples over "cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators." He described as "illogical" a 1972 Supreme Court decision legalizing the use of contraception by unmarried couples.

The 93-page document, which is publicly available at the Regent University library, culminates with a 15-point action plan that McDonnell said the Republican Party should follow to protect American families—a vision that he started to put into action soon after he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.

McDonnell's opponent, Creigh Deeds, spent the week making hay over the thesis, arguing that it showed McDonnell's true colors as a right-winger. "He'll continue to use this thesis as a blueprint for pushing his extreme social agenda that will take Virginia backwards," Deeds's campaign said this week.

In a follow-up story yesterday, however, I noticed that Deeds, while attacking the thesis, declined to take issue with McDonnell's dim view of homosexuality. And in its attack on the McDonnell's thesis, the Deeds campaign Web site also is silent on the paper's condemnations of homosexuality, even while taking it to task for arguing that "working women, contraception, and child day-care programs harmed society."

Yes, Deeds is trying to paint McDonnell as a card-carrying member of the Christian right. But the Democrat also is being careful to avoid presenting himself as a social liberal.