Virginia Election Result Should Not Discourage Social Conservatives

The recent 2013 Virginia off-year gubernatorial election quite understandably attracted considerable national attention. As a northern Virginia resident since 1982, I have followed, and have often been locally involved in, a number of these Virginia elections, including this one. A few observations on it from the standpoint of a grass-roots worker may add a perspective not widely heard in the accounts of regular reporters and pundits. The loss of this election does not, in my view, suggest that future defeats by social conservative candidates are inevitable.

Theoretically the election presented two opposed views of what policies and programs ought to be approved by the voters. On the one hand, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli announced a generically conservative campaign based on smaller government, lower taxes, improvements in education, and the like. In practice, however, he was already so well known as an ardent pro-lifer and Tea Party favorite, as well as the first state official to file a lawsuit against the federal Obamacare law, that his campaign inevitably ended up being viewed in the light of these burning “social issues.”

On the other hand, Terry McAuliffe, the eventual winner (though by less than fifty percent of the vote), ran as a straight down-the-line liberal wholly committed to the policies and programs of the Obama Administration. A pro-abortion Catholic and wheeler-and-dealer businessman, he has been an almost legendary fund-raiser for the Democrats, and is also famous for being a confidant and friend of Bill and Hilary Clinton. Following his victory, he announced that his first act as governor would be to issue an executive order forbidding discrimination against LGBTers.

Both the two party campaigns and the media reporting on them tended to focus less on the positions and issues that divided the candidates than on the candidates themselves. There were important issues at stake, but what generally got served up to the public instead was negative campaigning that created the impression of a sleazy operator running against a far-right extremist. Yet while the exposés of sleazy dealings were mostly well founded, the accusations of “extremism” were generally slanders and sometimes outright lies.

The basis on which the characterization of Ken Cuccinelli as an extremist was made, for example, included such beliefs of his as that a true marriage can only take place between a man and a woman, that wanton killing of the unborn ought not to be the law of the land, and that people ought not to be required to violate their consciences by being forced by law to purchase health insurance policies obligatorily providing gratis immoral “preventive services,” including the provision of abortion-inducing drugs. In today’s moral climate in America, being opposed to these things—not being in favor of them!—is what counts as “extremism.”

The campaign waged against Cuccinelli by the Democrats was almost exactly like the one they waged against Mitt Romney, namely, that he was engaged in a so-called “war on women.”

And it worked! Again. Last spring the McAuliffe campaign staffers realized that Cuccinelli was more vulnerable to this kind of attack than even Romney had been. So they methodically set out to define and demonize him with the “extremist” tag. The TV ad campaign they launched was relentless and went on and on. The Democrats enjoyed an enormous financial advantage here, outspending the Republicans almost ten to one. The Republicans could not reply to these ads with anything even remotely comparable. Only later did we also learn that, in the face of this onslaught, both the Republican National Committee and major Republican donors had meanwhile cut back severely on financial support for their candidate in an election that they should have realized was vital. Near the end such financial support ceased entirely and the Cuccinelli campaign was “on its own.”

More than that, like the Romney campaign before them, the establishment Republicans did not seem to grasp that they had to try to respond to the slander against Ken Cuccinelli—that it was essential to counter the falsehoods and demonization of their candidate being believed by all too many low-information voters. In particular, young single women seem to have been massively swayed against him. But then, as it appeared, the social issues had never been part of the Republican Party’s electoral game plan.

Late in the game, Cuccinelli himself, rather ruefully, put out a statement saying that it had never been his intention to deprive women of their contraceptives, which in any case no one could ever do anyway (he said) because of Supreme Court rulings. But why his campaign people, after the success of the spurious “war on women” accusations against Mitt Romney, did not grasp that they really had to counter the efforts of the Democrats to define their candidate as anti-woman is simply one of the great unanswered mysteries of the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election.

If against an allegation that you want to keep women barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen, you merely reply that, oh, you really want to create jobs and improve education, you have surely got to realize that some of the mud thrown at you is going to stick. Once Ken Cuccinelli became the official candidate of the Republican Party, establishment Republicans were apparently able to dictate what the campaign was officially about (not the social issues, evidently). Why this party influence obtained at the same time that the party’s financial support was being cut back so drastically is yet another one of those unanswered mysteries about this campaign.

What the Republican Party should have done from the outset was to take the express position that, yes, our candidate is pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, and pro-religious liberty—and should then also have prepared reasoned position papers explaining and defending these positions. This is what Cuccinelli actually did four years earlier when he was running for attorney general. He won that election. And he was rarely or never fazed or rattled on the campaign trail when challenged with the hostile questions of reporters seeking to bring out his alleged “extremism.” Often, he turned the rhetorical tables on these hostile questioners, leaving them embarrassed and nonplused at being unable to answer his questions about, say, abuses at abortion clinics. As a state senator he had almost single-handedly made the arrangements with his colleagues that brought us Virginia’s “Choose Life” license plates.

Why the Republican Party in 2013 proved unwilling or unable to make better use of the obvious talents and convictions of such a man, especially when he was their official candidate anyway, is another one of this election’s great unanswered mysteries. The fact of the matter is that the social issues are always going to be brought up and discussed in election campaigns today, whether or not the establishment Republicans want to see them brought up and discussed; so they might as well learn how to present and argue them effectively, rather than leaving it to the opposition to define these issues.

As time passed, many of us working for Cuccinelli’s election grew anxious that his campaign did not seem to be speaking to many of the issues that had motivated so many of us to support him in the first place. The whole approach seemed to be that of a Romney-style campaign presumably aimed at not alienating “independent” voters, while taking for granted the pro-life and pro-family base that supposedly had “no place to go.” The trouble with this kind of calculation, however, is that it never seems to take into account that perhaps the pro-life and pro-family base, or at least significant portions of it, may not come out to vote at all in sufficient numbers, if never given any incentive to do so. (Actually, Cuccinelli won the vote of “independents” this time around despite his social conservatism. Catering to the “independents,” however, proved insufficient to secure victory.)

I know of an actual case where Cuccinelli was directly questioned about how his campaign was being conducted. He replied that “changes are being made.” But the changes he was referring to did not seem to come very fast or very dramatically. New momentum and better prospects only became manifest near the end.

In the event, two things were what almost turned the campaign around, causing it to end up as close as it finally did. First, even though the Republican bigwigs generally were quite complacently sure that the social issues did not need to be in play—or perhaps they even considered them to be counterproductive—people active in the pro-life and pro-family movements in Virginia understood very well what the real stakes were; and they further understood that this election afforded a significant opportunity to put some spokes in the wheels of today’s rolling moral decadence and decline in America. If this is not stopped, and reversed, it will eventually destroy the America that was bequeathed to us by our forefathers.

Never in the course of many Virginia elections did I ever see so much spontaneous activity at the grass roots to persuade people what was at stake, to knock on doors, to make telephone calls, to prepare and distribute flyers, to offer to drive people to the polls, etc. Much of this activity was independent of and went beyond what the Republican Party itself was officially doing. This was even true of the incessant robocalls, which somebody had to pay for and which continued right up to election day. To a greater extent than I have ever seen, people felt keenly that they had to “do something.” Surely this bodes well for the future.

The second factor that brought Ken Cuccinelli close to victory in spite of the enormous, indeed insuperable, odds and obstacles that he faced was the implosion of the Orwellian-named Affordable Care Act—that is, Obamacare. Just a few weeks earlier, while the federal government was temporarily closed down, most people seemed mad at the Republicans, and that may have helped account for the double-digit lead in the polls given to McAuliffe. But then Obamacare kicked in, and the health insurance now legally required for just about everybody nevertheless proved practically impossible to obtain. At the same time, the insurance policies of huge numbers of Virginians that President Obama had many times promised people would be able to keep were in fact increasingly being cancelled. Suddenly it finally became clear to many that not only was the Obama Administration incompetent; the president was a liar. The shift in public sentiment was palpable. And Ken Cuccinelli, as the first state attorney general to file a lawsuit against Obamacare, instantly benefited. If the election had been held a few days later, he might well have won.

You might argue that this turn of events was an accidental factor with no permanent bearing on how elections need to be conducted by social conservatives. No: it proved that sometimes events do work in our favor, and then it becomes a question of how these events are to be exploited—as Cuccinelli brilliantly did in the last few days. He brought in Ron Paul, for example, to neutralize the fake libertarian candidate being funded by a liberal Democratic PAC.

Catholics and conservatives should not be discouraged by the loss of this Virginia gubernatorial election. It came close to being a victory, and next time it might well be a victory. Obviously we do need to stick to our principles, however. And we also need to work tirelessly and hard getting across to our establishment Republican friends that their reluctance to deal with the social issues is a foolish as well as a losing strategy.

In the meantime, I was consoled by the initial psalm in the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours for election day:

Do not fret because of the wicked;
Do not envy those who do evil:
for they wither quickly like grass
and fade like the green of the fields (#37).

(Photo credit: Linda Davidson / AP)

Kenneth D. Whitehead


Kenneth D. Whitehead is a former career diplomat who served in Rome and the Middle East and as the chief of the Arabic Service of the Voice of America. For eight years he served as executive vice president of Catholics United for the Faith. He also served as a United States Assistant Secretary of Education during the Reagan Administration. He is the author of The Renewed Church: The Second Vatican Council’s Enduring Teaching about the Church (Sapientia Press, 2009) and, most recently, Affirming Religious Freedom: How Vatican Council II Developed the Church’s Teaching to Meet Today’s Needs (St. Paul’s, 2010).

  • TheodoreSeeber

    So much of what conservatives do is too little, too late. We are the Samaritan who has come only after the traveller has been beaten, robbed, and left for dead. We need to start having a better answer to a culture that prizes profit over human life on abortion. We must be willing to show, in our own support of Private Charity, that there is a better option than either government welfare or the free market. Only then can we defeat the evil of liberty as license and choice.

    • Adam__Baum

      This is why statism is so dangerous. The bigger and more intrusive it gets, the more it becomes the domain of the instinctive, aggressive and unprincipled politician.

      There’s a reason for the old saw, “it takes a thief, to catch a thief”.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        The same can be said of the market. Governments and Markets don’t scale well for this reason- anonymity allows the instinctive, aggressive, and unprincipled man to do evil to people he will never meet.

        Or the violent version- a politician or a rich man that you can’t punch in the nose, is a man not to be trusted.

        • Adam__Baum

          “The same can be said of the market.”

          “Governments and Markets don’t scale well for this reason- anonymity allows the instinctive, aggressive, and unprincipled man to do evil to people he will never meet.”

          In a word, no. To borrow a phrase “you aren’t even wrong”.

          I am NOT anonymous to the government, it has been busily collecting a comprehensive data on me without consent ot compensation, virtually from the day I was born. Today it IS from the data of birth, when they assign their nine digit 666. The IRS will now be the custodian of my most personal financial and physical information.

          And yet yesterday, I bought a pack of Pilot G-2’s from OfficeMax. I could have bought them anonymously, but instead I used my discount/affinity card. All they know from that is what I buy from them, limited information which they then use to offer products I need or want.

          I see now that your profound ignorance of economics is in large part due to seething envy, and so you concoct vacant apologia with the durability of a cheap Happy Meal toy to escalate the petty offenses of the market with the capital crimes of governments, because at heart, you believe in the fantasy of benevolent government. In all due charity, it is better to remain silent and thought to be a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            By anonymity- I mean something far different than you do.

            You are not anonymous to your wife. You are not anonymous to your children. I hope you are not anonymous to your parents.

            For Government and the Free Market to work right- data collection isn’t enough. You need emotional attachment and friendship. You need to actually *CARE* about the people you interact with, and want not just your own well being, but also theirs.

            Under a government/market of more than 100,000 people, that becomes utterly impossible. They can collect all the information about your purchases and habits and people you talk to they want, they still do not CARE about whether you as an individual live or die, after all, there is always another consumer, another citizen, to take your place. Anonymous isn’t just financial and personal information, it’s also spiritual information. And if God ever sells his database, we’re all screwed.

            • Adam__Baum

              And yet I’ve dealth with people in the market WHO do care for me as an individual-even if it’s a far shallower level that they afford their family. I’ve gotten follow-up calls, get well wishes, even birthday cards.

              I’ve yet to get any well wishes from the government, at any level. I can walk away from OfficeMax if choose, just as I have from Charbucks, Staples, Coke and a few other select corporate statist acolytes-I’ve “punched them not in the nose, but a better place, the income statement.

              Tell me how I walk away from the IRS, the NSA.

              • TheodoreSeeber

                You need to repeal Article I Sections 8 and 10 to do so. And reduce the geographical size of government.

                You do know those well wishes from big businesses are just form letters generated by a computer, based on their data mining, right? You need a far smaller market to get anything better, because there is a limit of caring inherent in the human brain that can’t be breached.

                All you are to them, is income.

                • Adam__Baum

                  Who said it came from a big business? Do you have some sort of weird Freudian obsession with size?

                  Do you own a car? You own a computer apparently. Guess what, some stuff can’t be done by a group of people working in a medieval guild (no matter how much you romanticize it).

                  All I am to the government is income, better check the Sixteenth Amendment.

                  • TheodoreSeeber

                    Only in that, businesses, like economic systems and governments, simply don’t scale.

                    It is very expensive, but completely possible, to build a computer from nothing other than carved wooden pulleys and rope.

                    But I’m not surprised you don’t know that. All you are to any organization that you are a customer of, is income.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      “It is very expensive, but completely possible, to build a computer from nothing other than carved wooden pulleys and rope.”
                      Fantastic. Are you posting here using one?
                      That has to be the singularly most stupid thing said on the site, and when I think of the sheer drivel posted by the trolls and Hombre111, that really took some doing.

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      The Rope computer (Apraphulians) article is in that big black hole of articles published between 1984 and 1993 that isn’t on the web, but here’s an article on the water computer:

                      You claimed that a computer couldn’t be built without massive industrial support; yet ALL the early computers were. You don’t need chips for a computer, that just makes them smaller and less expensive. But even chips can be created in a small lab; in fact, the first transistors were.

                      There is nothing whatsoever that says the laws of physics work differently just because you have a massive group of people working on a problem.

                    • Adam__Baum

                      Then get off your silicon/electronic machine and start using it.

            • bbrown

              Methinks you need to read a little Adam Smith or even some of the wonderful Catholic defenses of our blessed free market system. Your ideas are a fantasy that might describe heaven, but certainly not this side of it. How do you plan to enforce friendship and caring?

              Our economic freedom, whilst it is being continually eroded by our Europeanising nanny-state tendencies, is by far the best means of achieving subsidiarity and the proper economic incentives for people to care about one another. This requires only a cursory knowledge of recent history. The price mechanism is a miracle of benevolence, as long as government does not interfere, under the guise of “caring” or the “general welfare”.

              • TheodoreSeeber

                Adam Smith was a Protestant, and his system is hopelessly Protestant, and does not scale besides.

                • bbrown

                  “Does not scale”? Not sure what you are saying there.

                  Theodore, I never said Smith was not a Protestant. I do know something about economic history, and most of Smith squares philosophically and theologically with Catholic teaching, and even, to certain degrees with Distributivist ideas.

                  • TheodoreSeeber

                    Doesn’t work beyond third degree of friendship, is what I mean by does not scale. Once you get beyond friendship, business rivalry turns into dog-eat-dog competition, and destroys civilization.

                    • bbrown

                      Whoa, where did you get these ideas?
                      This is far from the dogmatic law you imagine.
                      You must do your research.
                      If not freedom, what coercive system do you propose?

                    • TheodoreSeeber

                      The freedom to do what is right, only. Justice, rather than profiting off of one’s customers and employees (the typical version of capitalism uses, as the primary form of profit, the minimization of wages and the maximization of price, to create profit).

                    • bbrown

                      I repeat, what do you propose as the best “system”? Should it be imposed and if so by whom?

                    • Adam__Baum

                      You will note a few things about Theodore: He’s absolutely ignorant of economic life and completely willing to assert it publicly.

                      You see, Theodore has imbibed a little Luther as it applies economic matters, where people aren’t just frail and sinful, but totally corrupt and venal.

                      As for what he proposes, nothing but vacant platitudes.

  • tamsin

    Truly, the young-single-woman vote seems to come down to maintaining her right to kill an unwanted baby. To give her a nine-month window in which to change her mind after having sex. A nine-month return period is a better deal for the consumer… “I shop, therefore I am.”

    Having walked a mile in those young-single-woman shoes, I’m not sure what to say. The feminist movement has succeeded, so far, in convincing women that unwanted pregnancy is a final, unrecoverable, insurmountable death of the will. And so, “I abort, therefore I still am.”

    It would be good to get a strong female voice out in the lead, calling on women to be tougher. To toughen up. I think that an appeal to pride could be made. Similar to the call for equality of opportunity for women to qualify for tough occupations, as in the military.

    An appeal to young women that says: you think you’re so tough? I think you’re tough enough. I think you’re so tough, you can carry a baby for nine months before proceeding on with the rest of your life.

    Because ultimately, feminists are treating their fellow women as fainting flowers. Weak and fearful.

    • Adam__Baum

      “The feminist movement has succeeded, so far, in convincing women that unwanted pregnancy is a final, unrecoverable, insurmountable death of the will.”

      Apparently the left has identified the poisonous fruit of the forbidden tree and presented to a new generation of Eves. The new generation of Adams of course, accept it freely.

      An interesting observation. The most vocal feminists I ever worked with always sought my 240 pound male assistance whenever there was one of those inane excercises in corporate musical chairs. I always found that “interesting”.

  • He brought in Ron Paul, for example, to neutralize the fake libertarian candidate being funded by a liberal Democratic PAC

    What good that did him.

    • Adam__Baum

      Have been a small l and large L libertarian much of his life, Paul should have been aware he was herding cats.

      On the other hand, people claimed Sarvis was a foil because of his position on taxes and spending, but the typical modern libertarian is rapidly becoming a more a rabid social liberal (for abortion, state recognition of state imposed SSM, eradicated borders, drug legalization, legalized suicide) with a tepid appetite for fiscal restraint than the other way around.

      • bbrown

        Ah, this is so true Adam. I’m seeing this transmogrification very clearly – Libertarians are becoming the Libertine Party. This tendency is inherent in the Libertarian philosophy and lends itself to some bizarre positions, such as an avid defense of prostitution and free access to porn.

        Russell Kirk has been one of my favourite thinkers, and he wrote an excellent essay back in the 1970’s, predicting exactly these developments.

  • pja

    I live in Reston VA and I didn’t see any conservative/Republican activity outside my polling place or in the absentee balloting location. Plenty of well organized Dems though.

  • pat

    My voting precinct saw a greater gap-toward the liberal low information voter than in previous years; and this in an upper middle class suburb of Northern Virginia with essentially all of our children being college educated. As a practicing Catholic, I am struggling with not being frustrated and disappointed when even you call the victor a pro-abortion Catholic; why should we give him the benefit of the doubt? The Santa Rosa Bishop recently responded to a similar observation following a local presentation and obviously he is more nuanced than I, but his answer concerning politicians who act contrary to Catholic teaching was the rhetorical “who am I to judge” which we have seen media inaccurately quote Pope Francis as saying to every liberal social issue. The demographics of Northern Virginia are not pretty when one looks at precinct results in all areas; as a Texas friend of mine said, who is going to vote against Santa Clause and I asked who will vote against the Easter Bunny even after the first bite, because he did give out some free phones. The Church leaders need to call out the McAuliffes, Pelosis, the Kerrys and the Kennedys in order to strengthen a conservative base which finds it difficult to find hope in the Republicans and really don’t want to accept the Libertarians and their interpretation of humanistic relativism. It is difficult to find hope in the last results although I commend you for your efforts.

    • Adam__Baum

      “The Church leaders need to call out the McAuliffes, Pelosis, the Kerrys
      and the Kennedys in order to strengthen a conservative base”

      Nota Bene: When Pelosi passes on, expect a funeral Mass in a Cathedral, with an Episcopal celebrant.

      • Eamonn McKeown

        perhaps, but Teddy got a Catholic burial – apparently under canon law there is a pretty low bar for a Catholic burial. I could easily see a funeral Mass at National up on Wisconsin ave to soothe her ego even in death, however.

        • Adam__Baum

          Everytime I see her, I think of the old ELO song. “Evil woman”.

    • bbrown

      “…..with essentially all of our children being college educated.”

      You do realize that means they are indoctrinated into modern secular liberal voters. The incentive runs in very deep, subconscious levels (to most) in government schools.

      Re. Catholic Bishops and other leadership, the lack of backbone and courage is extremely disheartening. The cowardice and fear of speaking truth does not bode well.

    • Nana Mary

      This is a great analysis of the campaign. Wish these ideas had been followed a bit sooner.

      Whitehead says:

      . . .First, even though the Republican bigwigs generally were quite complacently sure that the social issues did not need to be in play—or perhaps they even considered them to be counterproductive—people active in the pro-life and pro-family movements in Virginia understood very well what the real stakes were; and they further understood that this election afforded a significant opportunity to put some spokes in the wheels of today’s rolling moral decadence and decline in America. If this is not stopped, and reversed, it will eventually destroy the America that was bequeathed to us by our forefathers. . . .

      This point is exactly what motivated many of us, Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
      I wish the Church had encouraged Catholics to do their civic duty and WORK for the “Pro-Life candidate” as well as vote. They could have even just EXPLAINED that there was only ONE pro-life candidate.
      The other candidate, while “Catholic” was certainly NOT pro-life or pro-marriage and made his views very public, and his goals as Governor would be counter to Church standards, so should have been mentioned as such. He should have been held to the standards of Canon Law 915. (Can. 915 Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.)
      A public excommunication might have gotten the attention of some DemoCath voters and emphasised that the Church meant business.

      Even Catholics are allowed by law to preach ISSUES from the pulpit. (As opposed to the Black churches in my town that are also allowed to have Democratic candidates themselves preach from the pulpit without losing IRS benefits.) But it seems either the Church worries about the IRS, or about losing the DemoCaths, or both.

      However, they should consider that if the Church were actually, publically, true to it’s ideals, it’s “TRUTH,” they would entice pro-life Evangelicals to at least look at joining it.

      We could gain very wonderful, committed Christians, while losing those who are cafeteria, not-committed, Catholics, I think. And my evangelical friend told me so herself.

      • bbrown

        Amen, I agree with this wholeheartedly.