Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

In Virginia, Culture War Looks Very Much Alive on One Side

The same poll showed voters trusting McDonnell more than Deeds on the economy and jobs (48 percent to 43 percent), taxes (50 percent to 39 percent) and transportation (46 percent to 38 percent), while they trusted Deeds on health care (47 percent to 43 percent).

Yet Deeds continues to pound away, at least in Northern Virginia, on culture, and he is doing so for one reason and only one reason: He figures that it is good politics.

Deeds has been underperforming in crucial Northern Virginia, and his campaign wisely decided that hitting McDonnell on abortion and other cultural issues will peel off suburban moderate voters not enamored of Deeds’ rural roots from the Republican and motivate them to turn out in November for the Democratic ticket.

So far, few commentators have remarked about Deeds’ strategy given the top issues of the day. You can be sure that if it were McDonnell, not Deeds, who was bringing up abortion and other cultural issues, he’d be criticized for being divisive and for focusing on allegedly tangential matters at a time of economic distress.

Indeed, that was the message in a Nov. 10, 2005, E.J. Dionne Jr. column written shortly after Kaine’s election as governor. Dionne wrote that a “jovial” then-Gov. Mark Warner (D) talked about the “failure” of the GOP’s gubernatorial campaign, and its focus on hot-button social issues, and Warner stressed that voters preferred candidates who dealt with questions that governors “actually spend 98 percent of their time working on,” such as the budget, health care, education, transportation and job growth.

Instead, the Washington Post cheered Deeds on in a mid-August editorial for talking about abortion and called the McDonnell campaign “disingenuous and wrong” for complaining that Deeds’ attacks were divisive.

And oddly, no one has mentioned that Deeds, who ran as a moderate in the primary, is now relying on a pro-abortion-rights message usually employed by liberal Democrats in general elections.

“I think somebody like me, from my part of the state, can bring people together, can create consensus,” Deeds says in a new TV spot that is running at the same time that he is attacking his opponent in the two abortion/birth control ads.

It’s too soon to say whether Deeds’ strategy will work. Democratic conventional wisdom over the past few years says it won’t, and if Mark Warner was correct back in 2005, Deeds is toast. But, in any case, reports of the death of cultural issues have been greatly exaggerated.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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