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Terry McAuliffe Made Abortion a Major Campaign Issue, and It Backfired

AP Photo/Cliff Owen

Throughout the Virginia gubernatorial campaign I have covered Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe's preoccupation with abortion, an issue he sought to make a major part of his platform. He also sought to create a panic among Virginia voters by claiming his opponent, Governor-Elect Glenn Youngkin's pro-life position with exceptions amounted to him wanting to "ban" abortion and that it would be "gone" in the commonwealth. 


Ultimately, polls showed that abortion was not a major campaign issue for many Virginians. Even worse for McAuliffe, though, was how it backfired. For those who considered abortion a major issue, they broke in favor of Youngkin, and by double digits. 

In the Fox News exit poll, when asked "which one of the following would you say is the most important issue facing Virginia," 5 percent said abortion. Among those voters, 56 percent favored Youngkin while 44 percent favored McAuliffe.

Mallory Quigley, vice president of communications for Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) referenced the poll in her statement for Townhall.

"Under fire from Youngkin and passionate parents who went after him on education and other cultural issues, McAuliffe turned to abortion to try to fire up his base and draw out moderates. This plan backfired, and it backfired hard. Fox News exit polling found that Virginia voters who cited abortion as their top issue broke for Youngkin by a margin of 12 percent. All this despite the fact that McAuliffe spent a reported $25 million on advertising which primarily emphasized his support for abortion on-demand," she said. 

SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser was also quoted in a press release from the organization, not merely about how "Terry McAuliffe arguably made abortion the central issue in his campaign, and it failed spectacularly," but about what it means for future elections. "The pathway forward for the GOP in the 2022 midterms is clear: going on offense on life and refusing to cede the issue to pro-abortion Democrats is the key to victory," she also said. 


Other exit polls found an even greater spread.

The CNN exit poll found that among the 8 percent of Virginia voters who said that abortion was their most important issue, 58 percent supported Youngkin over the 41 percent who supported McAuliffe.

The Washington Post exit poll found had the same results, that 8 percent considered abortion their most important issue, that that among those who did, 58 percent supported Youngkin compared to 41 percent who supported McAuliffe.

The Associated Press found that abortion was a "lower-tier issue." A write-up noted that:

A majority of Virginia’s voters — about 6 in 10 — say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 4 in 10 say it should be illegal in all or most cases.

Even so, a majority of voters fall into the middle, supporting abortion in some instances but not all — a third of voters say abortion should be legal in most cases and about that many say abortion should be illegal in most cases.

McAuliffe's claims about Youngkin's position on abortion was fact-checked and found to be only "half true" by PolitiFact. The Washington Post fact-checker rated McAuliffe's claims Two Pinocchios, also similar to "half true." The Democrat repeatedly tied his opponent to a Texas abortion law which bans most abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, at around six weeks. 

Youngkin said late last month during a 8News and Urban One Gubernatorial Candidate forum that McAuliffe also participated at, that "nowhere has my opponent probably more misrepresented my position." He has warned that McAuliffe supports abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy. 


While he made clear he's pro-life, Youngkin also indicated "I've said very clearly that the kind of bill that was passed in Texas is not a bill I would sign," going on to say it's because he finds it "complex and unworkable."

When it comes to pro-life legislation he would sign, Youngkin came out in favor of pain-capable legislation, which has passed in 16 states around the country. 

Even Democrats felt McAuliffe made abortion too much of an issue. Democrats for Life of America said as much in some pretty bold tweets from Tuesday night.

Other pro-lifers also weighed in.

"The Virginia election results make clear there's a new movement afoot in America, fueled by Americans who still love life, family, and freedom. After watching the appalling and destructive overreach of the progressive movement, parents decided to reclaim their right to decide what is best for their families and their children. Democrats vastly overplayed their hand - even deploying their most powerful leaders, including Obama and Biden, doubling down on their failed abortion-obsessed divisive politics. But voters rendered a decisive verdict Tuesday night for sanity and our American way of life. Tuesday’s results should serve as a warning to Democrats: continue down this path at your own risk," said Brian Burch with


Michael New, a research associate at The Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute also pointed out how much McAuliffe emphasized his position on abortion. "In the final weeks of the Virginia election, Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe doubled down in his support for legal abortion. In fact, McAuliffe ran five television ads emphasizing his support for abortion and campaigned at an abortion facility." I had also covered that bold campaign move. "Most Virginians support common sense limits on abortion  Gallup polls consistently show that strong majorities of Americans oppose abortions after the second trimester. McAulliffe's support for late-term abortions was clearly out of step with the wishes of most Virginia voters," New added.

The press release from SBA List highlighted a letter from Youngkin laying out his commitment to sign pain-capable legislation and protect taxpayers from having to fund abortions. 

With original emphasis, Youngkin had underscored how "Instead of working to expand late-term abortion in Virginia, I'll proudly advocate to limit abortions when the unborn child can feel pain. The United States is one of just seven countries around the globe – in the company of China and North Korea – to allow late abortions when the child can feel pain. That's why over 20 states have enacted Pain-Capable limits to stop late abortions. I'll work tirelessly to add Virginia to the list."


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