By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Surrounded by female activists and lawmakers, Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds on Monday launched an assault on his opponent's record of working to restrict abortions, calling it evidence that the Republican has the wrong priorities for the state.
The Women for Deeds event, at the Northern Virginia Community College campus in Annandale, was the first of three this week at which Deeds will highlight Republican Robert F. McDonnell's history on the issue. McDonnell introduced numerous bills on abortion during his 14 years as a delegate from Virginia Beach.
Deeds's message could energize a Democratic base that has been showing signs of sluggishness since last year's overwhelming victory in the presidential election. It could also chip away at McDonnell's campaign promises that he would focus on education, jobs and transportation if elected governor.
"It's easy in an election year to talk a good game about the governor you're going to be, and it's easy to talk about jobs and bipartisanship, but I think it's my obligation to draw distinctions where they exist," Deeds said.
Republicans seized on Deeds's new message, convinced that it will prove to be a strategic blunder for the Democrat to force the difficult social issue into the forefront of the campaign. They say the Deeds push is a departure from the approach of his Democratic predecessors Mark Warner and Timothy M. Kaine. Neither made such an early, high-profile foray into the topic during their campaigns for governor in 2001 and 2005.
"Despite Creigh Deeds's ongoing attempts to divide Virginians, Bob McDonnell will continue to talk about bringing Virginians together to create jobs and opportunity," McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said.
Deeds said he had spent his 18 years as a state delegate and senator from rural Bath County working to improve education and promote economic development while McDonnell, who opposes abortion in all instances except when the life of the mother is in danger, had spent his time in public life "single-mindedly advancing his anti-choice agenda."
While in the General Assembly, McDonnell successfully sponsored bills banning late-term abortions, requiring a 24-hour waiting period before the procedure is performed and requiring that minors receive parental permission for an abortion. He saluted "pro-life warriors" during a speech to an antiabortion group last year and said the University of Notre Dame should not have awarded President Obama an honorary degree this spring because Obama's views on the issue conflict with Catholic teaching.
McDonnell, who said his views on abortion are driven by his Catholic faith, calls the abortion bills he has advocated "common-sense provisions" and said Deeds was out of the mainstream for opposing them. He said that he does not shy from his record as a "pro-life legislator" but that he would uphold federal and state laws and plans to discuss other things in the campaign.
His campaign noted that during Deeds's event Monday, McDonnell was meeting with workers in depressed Martinsville to propose ways to improve the state's rural economy. Deeds discussed the same issue in Martinsville last week.
The Republican Party of Virginia distributed a video of Deeds from the race's first debate last month in which the Democrat called for an end to the use of social politics to divide people and said that although he was "not afraid to talk" about the issues, "I've never made social policy a huge part of my campaigns or a huge part of my agenda."
GOP leaders said voters will conclude the opposite now that Deeds has chosen to bring up the abortion issue.
"I think it's obvious that Creigh knows that he is in trouble, so he's thrown up this Hail Mary pass to rile up his liberal base," said state GOP Chairman Pat Mullins.
But Deeds rejected the notion that the effort was a gamble.
"Everything in life is risky," he said. "Helen Keller once wrote that life is either a daring adventure or nothing. So this is my daring adventure. . . . And that means sometimes I have do things that some people view as risky. I don't think it is."