Governor’s race in Virginia might carry hint for Ohio

The Columbus Dispatch — November 10, 2013

WASHINGTON — In one TV commercial, a woman physician said she was “offended” by Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli’s attempt to “make all abortions illegal.”

In another, Cuccinelli was labeled “too extreme,” while a third spot claimed the Republican would “force a survivor of rape or incest in Virginia to carry a pregnancy caused by her attacker.”

Democrat Terry McAuliffe defeated Cuccinelli by about 3?percentage points in Virginia’s governor’s race last week, a victory that can be credited at least in part to the effort his campaign and supporters put into making a wedge issue out of Cuccinelli’s rigid opposition to abortion in all cases.

What happened in Virginia, and what we’ve seen already from Ohio Democratic gubernatorial challenger Ed FitzGerald, suggests that a similar strategy might be deployed against Republican Gov. John Kasich in 2014.

“Ken Cuccinelli really is the canary in the coal mine for anti-choice candidates,” says Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. “We are encouraged by what we saw in Virginia and we’re committed to doing the same here in Ohio” against Kasich.

“As a governor, he has put more restrictions on access to abortion care and family planning than any governor for more than a decade,” Copeland said. “This is definitely the message that we will be bringing to voters in Ohio.”

Sandy Theis, a Democratic consultant in Ohio, said “you had a clear choice in Virginia and you have a clear choice in Ohio. One of the candidates respects women and the other one doesn’t.’’

Cuccinelli and Kasich do not share identical views on abortion; Kasich does not oppose it in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. But Ohio’s governor signed a state budget in June that included five anti-abortion provisions, including a ban on public hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with abortion clinics — such agreements are required of all surgical facilities in Ohio — and requiring doctors to perform an ultrasound and inform the woman about fetal viability before performing an abortion.

“He has a very pro-woman agenda,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life. “Women are more than just abortion on demand and contraception on demand.’’

Kasich’s budget signing turned into somewhat of a public-relations nightmare. A picture of him signing the document with the abortion-related provisions showed him surrounded only by middle-age white males. It was circulated across the country.

FitzGerald, who favors abortion rights, pounced over the summer with news conferences and threats to challenge those abortion-related provisions through a lawsuit or a complicated procedure to have them repealed by Ohio’s electorate. He has since indicated he would not pursue those avenues.

Fitzgerald recently posted on Twitter a link to a newspaper article about the closing abortion clinics, writing: “Under Gov. Kasich’s direction, women — and families — have far fewer healthcare options. We need a change.” Earlier, he had lamented the Republican’s “restrictive, anti-choice policies” on the same platform.

“It is definitely part of Fitzgerald’s campaign to paint John Kasich as an extremist on the abortion issue,” said Mary Anne Sharkey, a political consultant in Cleveland who has worked with Republicans and Democrats.

In Virginia, exit polls showed McAuliffe not only won backing from all women, but rolled up huge advantages among younger women. By contrast, New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who opposes abortion rights, easily won re-election last week against a Democratic woman candidate, winning the female vote by 15 percentage points.

Earlier this year, a poll conducted by Saperstein Associates for The Dispatch showed voters were evenly split over legislation called the “heartbeat bill,” which would effectively ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be medically detected.

“Look, Chris Christie won overwhelmingly. He’s pro-life, I’m pro-life,” Kasich said last week when asked if he thought FitzGerald might imitate McAuliffe’s strategy. “I don’t really think about it. You know, I’ve been pro-life my whole career, and that’s just the way it is.”

Last month, Kasich pledged up to $1 million to expand the state’s program for free breast- and cervical-cancer screenings, diagnostic testing and case management. He also is expanding the state’s Medicaid program with federal money, which proponents say will give health coverage to thousands of poor women with children.

Sharkey said, “The expansion of Medicaid to veterans and poor people is an issue that matters to all women voters.’’