The Washington Post editorial page threw itself today into quite an odd political position.
The Post seems to think that Bob McDonnell, the GOP candidate for Virginia governor, should be more vocal about his opposition to abortion. His opponent, Creigh Deeds, recently attempted to make a campaign issue out of his (somewhat newfound) support for abortion rights – a strategy that the Post called “risky.” Today’s editorial, however, backed Deeds’ strategy:
Mr. Deeds's strategy of stressing abortion may work or backfire; time will tell. But to suggest, as the McDonnell campaign has, that a campaign discussion about abortion "is engaging in the politics of division" is disingenuous and wrong. Thousands of Virginians have abortions every year, a decision that touches on families and futures. It's a fair and pressing topic of debate.
That is a somewhat perplexing position. On its face, that appears to be gently pushing McDonnell to engage on an issue critical to winning over Virginia voters. The problem is, the Post’s position would throw the current debate among Virginia voters wildly off-topic, according to no less a source than a recent Washington Post poll.
In a survey of 1,002 Virginia adults, the Post found that two percent of voters cited abortion as their primary concern in casting their vote. As a secondary concern, abortion was a much more pressing concern, weighing in at a hefty three percent.
Much has been made of Deeds’ appeal to rural voters – and, congruently, of McDonnell’s appeal to Northern Virginia’s more moderate voters. The same poll finds that, on the whole, Virginians favor legalized abortion at a rate of 55%. One might expect that rate to jump in the critical Northern Virginia suburbs.
In a newspaper which has made much of the fact that Northern Virginia cares very little about social issues such as abortion, it is an odd play for the editorial board – which endorsed Deeds in his Democratic primary – to root for McDonnell to take the bait on an issue which only five percent of respondents in their own poll cited as a primary or secondary concern in November’s election.
Indeed, the Post has repeatedly noted that Northern Virginia is much more interested in the economy, transportation, and education – and not necessarily in that order. To go against the numbers of their own poll seems counterintuitive, to say the least.
That is unless you know, as the Post’s editorial board undoubtedly knows, that Bob McDonnell cannot possibly win without a significant share of votes from the Northern Virginia suburbs.
Of course the McDonnell campaign is smarter than to seek political counsel from the pages of the liberally-slanted Post, but Virginia subscribers to the Post today got a peek at just how eager the paper is to help the Deeds campaign define McDonnell in what it considers an unfavorable light.