Was Ken Cuccinelli’s electoral loss to Terry McAuliffe in Virginia a major victory for the Left’s faux “war on women” strategy? Pollster Kellyanne Conway, president of the Polling Company, Inc./WomanTrend, talks with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about what happened last Tuesday and its implications beyond November 2013.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: MSNBC tells me Terry McAuliffe won because of transvaginal ultrasounds. Is that true?
KELLYANNE CONWAY: How they wish. The most common attack against Ken Cuccinelli — fueled by millions of dollars and the ubiquitous refrain “he’s too extreme for Virginia” — was that he was anti–birth control, anti-divorce, anti-abortion, and anti-woman. All that, and he lost by just 2.5 percent. The “War on Women” scare tactics actually took a beating on Election Day 2013. The pro-choice Republican candidate in New York City and the pro-choice Democratic female candidate in New Jersey got hammered. Pro-life governor Chris Christie was reelected in deep blue New Jersey with 57 percent of the female vote.
MSNBC is one in a long line of media sources that never bothered to correctly report that as attorney general Cuccinelli opposed the ultrasound mandate, which was also never signed into law. [The proposed bill would have required each community to follow the “standard medical practice in the community” for an ultrasound.]
But Ken did little to defend himself against the onslaught, so silence became acquiescence. He missed an opportunity to hang the Scarlet A of Abortion around McAuliffe’s neck. Most pro-choice Virginians would find the “abortion, anyone, anytime, anywhere” views of Obama-Clinton-McAuliffe “extreme.” They might have been appalled to learn that their new governor supports late-term and sex-selective abortions, as well as taxpayer-funded abortions, and that he has no regard for what nonpartisan scientists say about fetal pain . . . had they known.
Cuccinelli lost because he was vastly outspent, had a Republican governor on the sidelines and a third-party candidate on the ballot, and an “October surprise” in the government shutdown; he allowed the Star Scientific scandal to last too long, took too long to find his voice against Obamacare, lacked a single cohesive, memorable message (like “Bob’s for Jobs” in 2009 or “End the Car Tax” in 1993), and failed to push back at the caricature of him created by the Left. The better campaign won, although certainly not the better candidate or the better human being.
LOPEZ: Could Ken Cuccinelli have won women?
CONWAY: Yes, or at least more of them than he did. Women look for a combination of competence, connection, and credibility. They prefer positive solutions to negative slights. They also are pro-incumbent, but even though Governor McDonnell’s favorability ratings were higher than McAuliffe’s or Cuccinelli’s heading into Election Day, he was disabled from touting his economic record on the trail and urging voters to continue in that vein.
Our written advice to the campaign about winning women, starting last winter, included the recommendation that he 1) address everyday affordability and long-term financial security; 2) run hard against Obamacare, since Ken was the first in the nation to sue over it and women are the Chief Health-Care Officers of their families; 3) show Ken’s work as attorney general on sex trafficking and social justice, like freeing a man who had been wrongly imprisoned for 27 years and then giving him a job; 4) run as the “education governor,” and; 5) explain his position on abortion and expose McAuliffe as the true extremist on the issue.
Ken Cuccinelli won among married women (50 percent to 42 percent) and white women (54 percent to 36 percent). The nagging questions to confront are: Could Cuccinelli have won unmarried women, or African Americans? The answer to those questions are the same as they are for most Republican candidates: probably not. The GOP could start by listening to those of us who have worked to attract these groups and then transfer that knowledge to political engagement. One thing to note is that the gender gap for Cuccinelli overall was nine points, compared with 13 points for Romney in Virginia last year. And the “War on Women” slop was on eight cylinders against Ken.