Planned Parenthood president heads out in Virginia on behalf of Terry McAuliffe

October 26, 2013

With the election just 10 days away, Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards plans to travel through Virginia on Saturday to talk with voters about the importance of the governor’s race and fire up volunteers for Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate.

“All eyes are on Virginia,” Richards said to about two dozen volunteers gathered in the living room of Susan and David Drachsler in Alexandria early Saturday morning. “There’s no way to overstate how important this work is right now.”

Abortion and women’s reproductive rights have become a dominating issue in this race. Planned Parenthood’s political organizations have been highly active in the state since February with a campaign called “Keep Ken Out” that aims to educate voters, especially women, on the stances of Ken Cuccinelli II, the Republican candidate who opposes abortion in nearly all cases, even when a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

Richards’s appearance in Alexandria, followed by stops in Charlottesville and Richmond, is part of a last-minute push to get more people to commit to voting Nov. 5. Campaigns of all stripes are doing the same thing this weekend and next, infiltrating neighborhoods and tying up phone lines to “get out the vote.”

McAuliffe pulled ahead of Cuccinelli in the polls this fall, a lead largely attributed to the support of female voters.

“Ken Cuccinelli — he’s got a real problem with women,” Richards said to the volunteers in Alexandria. “And it’s pretty clear from the polls that the feeling is mutual. Women in the state of Virginia, and men who support women, are very alarmed at how extreme Ken Cuccinelli has been on issues.”

Cuccinelli’s campaign has repeatedly criticized McAuliffe for focusing too much on issues such as abortion and too little on the economy and job creation, among other things. Supporters of Cuccinelli have said that McAuliffe has not done enough to explain his own positions on women’s health issues.

McAuliffe has said that he supports most Virginia laws that prohibit third-trimester abortions, except to protect the life or health of the mother, and he opposes further restrictions. McAuliffe has also said that he supports repealing a new law that mandates an ultrasound before an abortion. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia endorsed McAuliffe in May.

Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood Votes spent more than $1 million on radio and television ads in the Richmond and Norfolk areas. The ads are targeted at female voters and detail Cuccinelli’s stances on birth control and abortion. An ad released this week ends: “Ken Cuccinelli: Wrong for women. Wrong for Virginia.”

The Virginia governor’s race is seen as a preview of some of the issues that could dominate races in 2014. Richards wrote in a column published by the Huffington Post on Friday that politicians who want to win elections need to stop attacking women’s health issues.

“Anyone who wants to run for office should take a lesson from Virginia: attacking women’s health is not only bad policy, it’s bad politics,” Richards wrote. “The outpouring of activism we’re seeing in the Commonwealth to fight back against these attacks and elect a candidate who stands with women isn’t an outlier -- it’s the new normal.”

But getting voters to the polls is a daunting task during an off-year election. A McAuliffe canvas organizer told volunteers on Saturday morning to talk with registered voters, especially women, about the importance of voting in local and state elections. The goal, he told them, is “turnout, turnout, turnout.”

Before the volunteers left with their clipboards and stacks of McAuliffe materials, many posed for photos with Richards and chatted with her about why they are volunteering.

“Most of these people are already fired up — but seeing someone like her, it does give you an extra push,” said Susan Drachsler, who hosted the event and is especially passionate about issues of mental health through her work with Friends of the Alexandria Mental Health Center.

After the pep rally, Richards knocked on a few doors with Robin Fennessy, 58, a retired member of the military who is a contractor at Pentagon but has seen work dry up because of the sequester. Richards spoke with mostly women, but she also talked to a dad headed to his son’s soccer game.

“We will absolutely be out,” said Eric Chader, 45. “There’s no question.”

“Oh, that’s so great,” Richards said. “Well, thank you. . . . I worry that people will think it’s a done deal. And it’s so important. We don’t want this to be a low turnout.”

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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