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R. Creigh Deeds Chooses Risky Strategy in Attacking McDonnell on Abortion Views

(By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)
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McDonnell said Deeds was "flat-out wrong" to suggest his rhetoric has shifted on the issue. McDonnell said he was applauding the group's members for helping to enact "common sense provisions that have broad-based agreement" on the issue and that it is Deeds's opposition to the laws that is extreme.

Both elected to the General Assembly in 1992, the two men have long held contrasting positions on abortion.

In his years as a delegate representing Virginia Beach, McDonnell sponsored or co-sponsored numerous pieces of legislation on the topic, including a ban on late-term abortions, a requirement that minors receive parental consent before getting an abortion and a mandated 24-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion. All three passed the General Assembly.

This spring, he spoke out against his alma mater, Notre Dame, for awarding an honorary degree to President Obama (D), who supports abortion rights, because, he said, Obama's views appeared "to be in great conflict with the Catholic social teaching."

As a state lawmaker, Deeds supported notifying parents when their minor child sought an abortion but opposed requiring minors to receive a parent's consent. He opposed a ban on late-term abortions that did not include an exception for cases when the mother's health was in jeopardy. He supported allowing emergency contraception, the so-called morning-after pill, to be distributed at health centers at public colleges.

Deeds said Saturday that he would like abortion to be rare but favors no further legal restrictions on the practice and that he believes the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that established a woman's right to an abortion should be upheld. McDonnell, who has said his beliefs are driven by his Catholic faith, would not say whether he believes the 1973 federal decision should be overturned, calling it an issue that the "Supreme Court would have to decide." He said that he would "uphold the laws of the land" on the issue but that his position is clear: "I have been a pro-life legislator. I have been a pro-life attorney general."

One risk of Deeds's strategy comes in finding a way to cast McDonnell as too consumed with abortion without appearing to be overly consumed with the issue himself.

"I think he's got to be cautious about opening that line of attack," said Del. David E. Poisson, a Democrat who won his Loudoun County district in 2005 against an opponent who was largely defined by his opposition to abortion. Poisson said the key to his victory was respectfully steering clear of the issue in favor of a discussion of roads and schools.

"The thing you worry about when you start going down that path is you look as small as the argument," said Poisson, who backed former delegate Brian J. Moran over Deeds for the Democratic nomination.

There are risks for McDonnell as well. An excessive focus on social issues is widely believed to have hurt Republicans in some recent elections. But if he shies away from his record on abortion and other social issues, voters might conclude his moderate rhetoric is merely a campaign-year makeover. He could also risk alienating the most energetic part of the conservative base.

"If he wants people to go door to door, if he wants people to talk favorably over the back fence, he can't be silent about these issues," said Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), the assembly's most vocal member on the issue. "Silence is ignoring people."

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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