Two play­books for de­fend­ing against the ‘war on women’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

A year af­ter Pres­i­dent Obama rode to re­elec­tion ac­cus­ing Repub­li­cans of a war on women, the gov­er­nor’s races in New Jersey and Vir­ginia of­fered the GOP two op­tions for how to strike back.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie eas­ily de­feated a fe­male state se­na­tor by stay­ing away from hot-but­ton so­cial is­sues such as abor­tion, con­tra­cep­tion and gay mar­riage, and by earn­ing strong sup­port among women for his lead­er­ship af­ter Su­per­storm Sandy.

Fur­ther south, how­ever, Vir­ginia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken­neth T. Cuc­cinelli II strug­gled with fe­male vot­ers as he fought to over­come a so­cially con­ser­va­tive record that Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den, cam­paign­ing for Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Terry McAuliffe, summed up as “from another era.” One ad run­ning this past week in the North­ern Vir­ginia mar­ket ac­cused Mr. Cuc­cinelli of want­ing to out­law con­tra­cep­tion, one of a se­ries of at­tack ads that helped Mr. McAuliffe edge out Mr. Cuc­cinelli at the bal­lot box.

“One of the key planks in the Democrats’ ‘win at all costs’ play­book is the ‘ war on women’ ma­neu­ver,” said Ford O’Con­nell, a Repub­li­can strate­gist. “While both Cuc­cinelli and Christie are pro-life, only Cuc­cinelli fell head­long into this hy­per-emo­tional trap. Christie’s strong fa­vor­a­bil­ity with fe­male vot­ers is a tes­ta­ment to his un­der­stand­ing the im­por­tance of tone, rhetoric, out­reach and per­sonal fa­vor­a­bil­ity when con­vey­ing one’s views. Cuc­cinelli, on the other hand, is a text­book ex­am­ple of how not to han­dle the [Democrats’] pro­pa­ganda slime.”

Exit polls in Vir­ginia, mean­while, showed that Mr. Cuc­cinelli may have ben­e­fited from the blow­back against Oba­macare, with 48 per­cent of vot­ers say­ing they sup­port it and 50 per­cent say­ing they op­pose it.

Head­ing into Tues­day, polls showed just how dif­fer­ent the two races were. A Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity Poll of New Jersey vot­ers found Mr. Christie win­ning sup­port of 57 per­cent of women over state Sen. Bar­bara Buono. In Vir­ginia, Mr. Cuc­cinelli was sup­ported by 36 per­cent of women.

Part of the rea­son for the dif­fer­ence was op­por­tu­nity.

Democrats never saw the New Jersey race as par­tic­u­larly winnable, so the na­tional party didn’t make much of an ef­fort on Ms. Buono’s be­half.

Vir­ginia pre­sented another story. Gover­nors are lim­ited to one term, so Gov. Bob McDon­nell, a Repub­li­can, couldn’t run again, leav­ing no in­cum­bent. Mr. McAuliffe, a for­mer Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man, proved to be an out­stand­ing fundraiser, al­low­ing him to flood the state with ads at­tack­ing Mr. Cuc­cinelli’s views on so­cial is­sues.

“Cuc­cinelli has been buried in an avalanche of neg­a­tive cash,” Repub­li­can strate­gist Mike McKenna said. “I think when all is said and done he will have been out­spent around 2-to-1. Much of that cash has been di­rected at women, some of whom have got­ten four or five mail­ings and phone calls each day.”

Four years ago, Mr. McDon­nell, a so­cial con­ser­va­tive and for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral who made his mark cham­pi­oning pro­life leg­is­la­tion dur­ing his time in the state leg­is­la­ture, played down so­cial is­sues and fo­cused on jobs and the econ­omy dur­ing a deep eco­nomic slump.

Mr. Cuc­cinelli wasn’t able to achieve the same re­cal­i­bra­tion.

“Cuc­cinelli came to the party nom­i­na­tion as a hero to an ide­o­log­i­cal fringe and he was never able to re­po­si­tion him­self as a be­nign con­ser­va­tive the way that McDon­nell did four years ago,” said Mark Rozell, act­ing dean and pro­fes­sor of pub­lic pol­icy at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity.

Repub­li­cans emerged from 2012 elec­tion losses na­tion­wide point­ing to fail­ures to con­nect with fe­male, mi­nor­ity and young vot­ers.

Pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Mitt Rom­ney reg­u­larly had to fend off at­tacks that he was an­ti­woman, but strug­gled to take po­si­tions on leg­is­la­tion such as the Fair Pay Act. At one point, Mr. Rom­ney tried to re­but the charges by talk­ing about the “binders full of women” he had when he was Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor and was try­ing to staff his ad­min­is­tra­tion. The re­mark was widely lam­pooned.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Vir­ginia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken­neth T. Cuc­cinelli II, the Repub­li­can can­di­date for gov­er­nor, talks to vot­ers at the Atlee High School vot­ing place in Hanover on Tues­day.

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