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McDonnell strikes a balance, conservatives rethink support

McDonnell's efforts to hold on to conservatives has been complicated by the actions of Cuccinelli, who was also elected in November and has quickly become a national figure through his aggressive efforts to curb the federal government and his unapologetic appeals to "tea party" activists. The more that Cuccinelli's brand of conservatism becomes the standard in the Virginia Republican Party, the harder it is for McDonnell to both appeal to moderates and win over his base.

Willie Deutsch, an activist from Richmond who supported McDonnell and Cuccinelli, said that the governor seems to be embarrassed to be a conservative but that the attorney general embraces it. He said he thinks McDonnell, who has been mentioned as a possible presidential or vice presidential contender, is more concerned about his "future viability."

"I think he's a conservative who isn't willing to fight for his true convictions," Deutsch said.

Not all conservative groups are angry with McDonnell. Three of the state's largest organizations -- the National Rifle Association, the Virginia Society for Human Life and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation -- have praised him.

Steps on abortion

Olivia Gans, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life, which is affiliated with the National Right to Life Committee, commended McDonnell for accomplishing what he could with a state Senate controlled by Democrats. "The governor is being realistic," she said. "The governor isn't opposed to doing what he made his campaign promise on. But he is taking a look at the larger political realities."

In the case of Planned Parenthood, conservatives had wanted McDonnell to eliminate funding and mounted an aggressive lobbying campaign to persuade him to do so. The Family Foundation of Virginia sent 11,000 e-mails and 5,000 mailers to supporters. The head of the Virginia Christian Alliance met privately with McDonnell's chief of staff to lobby him on the issue. And more than 1,100 people sent letters to the governor's office.

But instead of recommending that all state aid be withdrawn, McDonnell proposed a less controversial move that would keep state money from funding most abortions but would maintain it in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk. The proposal was approved April 21 by a single vote in the Senate.

McDonnell said in an interview that he did not cut all of Planned Parenthood's state funds because it provides other services, such as counseling. He said it would not have been "proper" to cut off those tax dollars.

"The heart and soul of what the concerns that were expressed to me and that I was talking about during the campaign . . . were not providing state money, taxpayer money . . . for abortion services," he said. "That's the heart and soul of what people's concerns were, and I think I've been very faithful to that pledge."

Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation, said that she was pleased that McDonnell proposed withholding state money for abortions but that her group was not satisfied.

"We want him to do more," Cobb said. "And we will continue to ask him."

Patrick M. McSweeney, a former state Republican Party chairman and a standard-bearer of the party's right wing, said he is urging activists to be patient. After all, he said, McDonnell has been in office only a few months.

"There is no sense to attack him now," McSweeney said. "There are a lot of impatient people."

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