Howell, who recently hired a full-time communications director after letting that job go vacant for several years, is one of many state GOP legislators newly bent on getting their message out.
As Republicans prepare to return to Richmond on Jan. 9, some are eager to avoid a repeat of the last General Assembly session, when they found themselves in a swirl of national media attention and even a “Saturday Night Live” parody over a bill that would have required women to get vaginal ultrasounds before abortions.
Stung by losses in November’s presidential and U.S. Senate races, they are determined not to hand Democrats more “war on women” ammunition as they head into the 2013 races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. That sentiment is especially strong in the House, where all 100 delegates are up for reelection.
Some moderate Republicans are privately rooting for hot-button social legislation to die quietly in committee. But killing off those bills is not their entire strategy — and not one that conservative Republicans are on board with in any case.
More broadly accepted — among tea party favorites and establishment types — is the idea that Virginia Republicans have to get a better grip on how their work in Richmond gets conveyed to voters.
That means not only taking to social media but also pushing new issues — like a pair of proposed constitutional amendments to curb union power — that are likely to grab headlines and fire up the party base without igniting another reproductive-rights war.
“We recognize we must do a good job of messaging our entire agenda and making sure we cut through all the fervor and focus on social issues,” said Del. Ben L. Cline (R-Rockbridge), co-chairman of the conservative caucus. “We have to do a better job of communicating to the public the work that we do on fiscal issues, on pocketbook issues and on education.”
Cline said that does not mean soft-pedaling issues such as abortion, but making sure voters know they are not the end-all and be-all of the GOP agenda.
“Our problem is not being too conservative and our solution is certainly not wishy- washing the party down so we stand for nothing,” said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax). “The problem is that we are not communicating.”
Albo believes Republicans can make inroads with voters who support abortion rights so long as they have other priorities.
“You need people like my mother, a pro-choice Republican,” he said. “She understands you can never be 100 percent with anybody. . . . Let’s agree to disagree on that one and look at all these other issues.”