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Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli will lose the gubernatorial race in Virginia, not because of the Tea Party and the government shutdown, but because of women. While it’s true that Republicans were hurt by the shutdown, the gender gap has always been, and will continue to be, the deciding factor in Virginia.
In August, 50 percent of women supported Democrat Terry McAuliffe while only 38 percent favored Cuccinelli—and that was before the shutdown. The only thing the shutdown has done is add more fuel to an already intensely burning fire (as well as throwing greater support to the Libertarian candidate).
Women favor bigger government; therefore, they opposed the shutdown more than men. This only solidified their support for McAuliffe, but the shutdown did not actually change the trajectory of the race. Cuccinelli has been losing among women because of social issues, and he is continuing to lose.
McAuliffe has been outspending Cuccinelli for months, hammering issues like women’s healthcare rights and abortion—the social issues Cuccinelli and the Republicans would rather avoid.
One of his latest ads shows grainy footage of Cuccinelli talking about abortion to a Christian group in which he says, “Given that God does judge nations, it’s amazing that abortion has run as far and foully as it has without what I would consider to be a greater imposition of judgment on this country.” The ad fades to black and declares, “Too extreme for Virginia.” This, more than anything the Tea Party has done, will secure Cuccinelli’s defeat.
To further gin up the war-on-women narrative, McAuliffe has called in Hillary Clinton to campaign for him. At an event on Saturday—billed as a “Women for Terry” rally—Clinton said, “The whole country is watching to see if the rights of women and girls will be respected, especially over our own bodies and our health care.” Sounds like 2012 all over again!
McAuliffe is now ahead by eight points, 46 to 38 percent. His lead with women is at 20 points. Cuccinelli, however, still leads among men at 44 to 40 percent. This has been reduced by the government shutdown, but even at its pre-shutdown peak, Cuccinelli’s numbers still lagged behind McAuliffe (with the exception of some early leads from January to May) despite his advantage with men.
The race is reminiscent in many ways of the 2012 presidential election, in which Mitt Romney led among men and tried to steer clear of social issues in favor of the economy—a strategy that failed. The Republicans knew it would be close, but they believed stagnant job growth, skyrocketing debt, and President Obama’s failure to right the nation’s economy would secure the presidency for Romney. No matter what issues the Democrats brought up during the campaign, the Romney campaign stuck to their narrative: “It’s the economy, stupid!”
As it turned out, the only thing stupid was thinking it was all about the economy—because it was the war on women that made difference in the 2012 election. While many of us would prefer to leave social issues out of the debate, it’s impossible to do when your opposition keeps using it as a club to beat you down.
Fair or not, the Republican narrative failed, and Obama beat Romney 50.6 percent to 47.8 percent. At total of 55 percent of women and 45 percent of men voted for Obama; 44 percent of women and 52 percent of men voted for Romney. For the first time since 1952, a presidential candidate chosen by a majority of men—Mitt Romney—lost. More women voted for Obama.
Female support for Obama was particularly significant in Ohio, where the gender breakdown was similar to national figures. Of the top 10 battleground states, only North Carolina went to Romney. According to exit polls, female college students, unmarried professionals, and even many white suburbanites weren’t swayed by Romney’s message about the economy; they believed the election was about something just as important if not more so, something that drove them to vote for Obama, something the Republicans had dismissed in the campaign as being overly hyped and ultimately insignificant: free birth control.
The Democratic Party had been pushing the narrative of the GOP’s war on women throughout the presidential campaign, spreading the message that Republicans wanted to take away women’s contraceptives by not supporting the birth control mandate in Obamacare. The Romney campaign, however, was fully convinced American women would never put a propagandized issue like that over the very real, painful societal problems of poverty, national security, growing unemployment, and high costs of living that affected women across the nation.
Yet, women did just that. They believed the Democrats’ messaging and not the Republicans’. They’re doing the same in the Virginia gubernatorial race, and they will do so in the next presidential race if something doesn’t change.
While the shutdown didn’t work and the Republicans took a hit, it would be a grave mistake for the GOP to get riled up about the Tea Party and start blaming every loss and every setback on Ted Cruz and company. This will only create more divisions in the party. It is important that we keep our eye on the ball—winning elections. And we can’t win if we don’t do something about the war on women.
The GOP needs to get together and come up with a strategy on how to bridge the gender gap. In the midst of a political campaign, most Republicans don’t want to talk about social issues, but we have to find a way to deal with them regardless. The goal is to win, and you can’t win if you’re fighting about things that are not the real problem. While Republicans are beating each other up, Democrats are running sinister ads about abortion and free birth control—and they’re winning.
Let me repeat. Cuccinelli will lose. I hate to say it. I don’t like it, but he has been losing to McAuliffe for months, and he will continue to lose. The shutdown has made it worse, but it will not be the causal factor in Cuccinelli’s eventual loss. It’s the women, stupid. Republicans need to come up with a strategy to deal with that issue; if they do, maybe they’ll start winning some more elections.