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Abortion to be key campaign issue in ‘14

Focus of Democrats on abortion in Virginia could get repeated in Ohio.

What played out on TV screens throughout Virginia this campaign season could dominate Democratic TV ads in Ohio next year.

In one commercial, a woman physician said she was “offended” by Virginia GOP 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 his supporters put into making a wedge issue out of Cuccinelli’s rigid opposition to abortion in all cases.

Political observers say a similar strategy may be deployed against Republican Gov. John Kasich in 2014 by Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald or his supporters.

“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.’’

About Kasich Copeland said, “As a governor, he has put more restrictions on access to abortion care and family planning than any governor for more than a decade. 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 them in cases of rape, incest, and 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 and requiring doctors to perform an ultrasound before performing an abortion.

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

Opposite views

Kasich’s signing of the budget turned into somewhat of a public-relations nightmare, as a picture of him signing the document with the abortion-related provisions in it as he was surrounded by only middle-aged, white males was circulated around the country.

FitzGerald, who favors abortion rights, pounced over the summer with press 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 a link to a newspaper article about the closing abortion clinics on Twitter, writing: “Under Gov. Kasich’s direction, women — and families – have far fewer health care options. We need a change.”

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

In Virginia, a so-called swing state like Ohio, exit polls showed that McAuliffe not only won backing from 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.

“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.”

Medicaid expansion

Kasich has staked out a few positions that appeal directly to women.

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 is also expanding the state’s Medicaid program — apparently against the wishes of the more conservative members of his caucus — in a move that proponents say will give health coverage to thousands of poor women with children.

Kasich felt so strongly about the issue he sought and received approval of the plan through the state’s Controlling Board, bypassing the more traditional means of getting legislative approval. The move is currently being contested in the courts.

Although FitzGerald will undoubtedly find many women’s issues on which to draw distance between him and the governor, the Medicaid expansion — and Kasich’s unwavering support for it — has the support of many women.

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

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