Abortion Takes Center Stage in Race for Virginia Governor

The Cuccinelli-McAuliffe race has become an abortion wars battleground.

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Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli gestures during a press conference after a hearing before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on a challenge to the federal health care reform act in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, May 10, 2011. The three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals includes Obama appointees, Andre Davis and James Wynn, and Diana Motz, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton. The panel has heard arguments in two Virginia lawsuits challenging Obama's health care overhaul.

If anyone thought abortion would not be an issue in the upcoming Virginia gubernatorial election, they can forget it. The news that the prolife Susan B. Anthony List will back GOP Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's effort to occupy the governor's mansion to the tune of $1.5 million brought a quick response from the Democratic Party of Virginia, which pulled no punches.

The pledge, said State Delegate Jennifer McClellan in a hastily arranged media conference call, was a "clear and troubling sign that he will be a governor for radical groups like the Susan B. Anthony List and not for the Virginians who just want mainstream solutions to the challenges we face."

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

To back up the charge, the Democratic Party of Virginia released an accompanying "hit sheet" on the prolife group, which has proven again and again to be one of the more effective groups operating in conservative politics today.

The inclusion of raw opposition research in a press release is something new, at least in this format, but probably something that we are going to see more and more of over time. It makes it easier for reporters, especially those trying to slant a story in a sympathetic fashion, to find the quotes they need without having to spend any time doing research. That the data points would be used uncritically is yet another symptom of the dread phenomenon "advocacy journalism" that has replaced simple media bias in too many otherwise reputable news outlets. Rather than simply cover stories, reporters are now actively taking sides, especially in political campaigns and in public policy matters.

Both parties are already working with friendly press to shape the race. It's worth noting, however, that the Democrats have a lot more friends out there than the Republicans do, at least among general assignment reporters. Among columnists the split is a little more even but news consumers don't view opinion journalism they way they see straight news—which is what the Democrats who support former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe's bid for Virginia governor are counting on.

[ Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Abortion Be Illegal?]

Abortion has been the silver bullet for Virginia Democrats before and they are hoping it will be so again. So the campaign is on for the center, with both ends of the spectrum trying to define the other as holding positions "too extreme" for most Virginians as Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a release issued Thursday.

Groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood—whose support Terry McAuliffe wholeheartedly embraces—support extreme policies that fall well outside the mainstream in Virginia and the country. So committed have these groups become to abortion at any stage for any reason that they refuse to support even the limits that overwhelming majorities embrace, such as bans on sex-selection abortion and late-term abortions past the point at which unborn children are known to feel pain. Never mind that national polling shows these regulations are supported by an astounding 77 and 63 percent of Americans, respectively-- with support even higher among women.

Ken Cuccinelli's leadership in defending women against violence on campus and in fighting human trafficking in Virginia, on the other hand, is a mainstream agenda that all women in Virginia can support. Ken has fought repeatedly against the exploitation of the most vulnerable, including the unborn, and women can be confident he will do the same as governor.

[ Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Catholic and Other Religious Institutions Have to Cover Birth Control?]

"Who's the radical here?" Dannenfelser went on to ask before making her final point. It's a good question, the answer to which depends which candidate is doing the finger-pointing in the upcoming campaign. The Cuccinelli supporters will say its McAuliffe while McAuliffe backers will argue it is Cuccinelli in a fight that is almost sure to be waged non-stop on northern Virginia television for months.