Part Three of a week-long series highlighting the major issues in the race for Virginia governor.
At the outset, women’s issues — abortion, equal pay, working moms — were not poised to play a major role in this year’s race for governor.
After all, the candidates had to address immense economic and transportation challenges.
But all that changed this summer when The Washington Post dug up Republican Bob McDonnell’s graduate thesis, and women’s issues came thundering into the spotlight.
In the 1989 thesis, McDonnell — then a 34-year-old Master’s student at what is now Regent University — laid out strong views on a wide range of issues.
He called feminism one of the “real enemies of the traditional family” and said government should favor married couples ahead of “cohabitators, homosexuals or fornicators.”
A day after the thesis story broke, McDonnell spent about 90 minutes on a conference call with reporters, trying to set the record straight.
“This election is not about a 20-year-old academic thesis,” McDonnell said on the call.
He went on to say that attempts to paint him as a crusader against some social causes were a “flat misrepresentation.”
McDonnell flatly rejected parts of the thesis.
“I absolutely and fully repudiate” language suggesting that working women are a threat to the family, McDonnell said.
He also cited his wife, who has worked outside the home, as well as his two grown daughters, who have Master’s degrees, as evidence that he supports working women.
“For my opponent to suggest otherwise…is insulting to me and my family,” McDonnell said.
But his answers did little to satisfy gleeful Democrats, who immediately seized on the issue.
“Ever since [McDonnell] wrote this blueprint for governing, he’s pursued this social agenda,” Democratic nominee Creigh Deeds said at a press conference in Richmond that week. “It now provides context to a great many of the things I’ve been talking about for a long time.”
Both sides took the issue to the airwaves, launching brutal television commercials.
Deeds TV Spot
Deeds TV Spot
McDonnell TV Spot
McDonnell TV Spot
After the initial firestorm passed, the Deeds campaign turned its attention to what staffers called a clear link between the thesis and McDonnell’s record as a legislator.
The two men talked about the issue with reporters after the annual Labor Day parade in Buena Vista:
And Deeds hammered McDonnell on it during a debate in September.
“He’s been focused on a narrow band of social issues and a social agenda,” the Democrat told members of the Fairfax Chambrer of Commerce.
McDonnell responded by pointing out his family.
“Here’s my wife and daughters,” McDonnell said. “I’ve told you I support working women.”
That response is fairly consistent with McDonnell’s earlier approach to the issue.
Deeds did pick up some momentum in the polls shortly after the controversy broke, specifically when it came to firing up members of the Democratic base.
But that issue has seemingly run its course perhaps, analysts say, because of the Deeds campaign’s near-blanket focus on it.
A Public Policy Polling survey out this week shows 59 percent of those polled believe Deeds has run a mostly negative campaign.
And the poll indicates few voters will make their decision about Deeds and McDonnell based on this issue.