War on Women

10.10.134:45 AM ET

Ken Cuccinelli's Gender Gap Problem

The Virginia gubernatorial candidate is trying to soften up his image to woo women voters—but talking points can't erase his extreme positions, says Buffy Wicks.

Here’s some advice to Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli—when you have spent months pushing an extreme policy agenda that would harm women and their families, you won’t shore up support among women voters by claiming that no one has done more to protect women, deploying your wife to soften your image among women, or buying up television spots that feature alone female supporters.

It didn’t work for Mitt Romney. It won’t work for Ken Cuccinelli. And it won’t work for the next GOP candidate who decides to run on extreme anti-choice positions, a zealous opposition to the Affordable Care Act, and an economic agenda that does nothing to address the struggles of hardworking American families. Because it’s a strategy that’s not founded in a sound public policy vision that seeks to lift up women and families, provide more economic opportunity, and level the playing field so that women have a fair shot at getting ahead, not just by.

You can’t wipe away a 24-point gender gap with a new bumper sticker, slick TV ads, or a tweak to your talking points. To win the support of women voters, Republicans have to fundamentally support policies that support women and families. They have to stop working to roll back women’s reproductive rights and make it harder for women to access health care. They need to put forward solutions that address the day-to-day pocket book challenges women and their families face today, like supporting paid Family Medical Leave, an increased minimum wage and pay equity. And they need to deliver results that ensure women across the country have the same opportunity to live economically secure and healthy lives.

Despite the advances that women have made over the past few decades, women across the country are still struggling to get by. A new analysis from the Center for American Progress illustrates that women in Virginia are faring even worse than women in other states when it comes to their overall economic well-being and health. In Virginia, where the state legislature is made up overwhelmingly of men, women seeking an abortion are required to undergo medically unnecessary ultrasounds and the state imposes burdensome regulations on abortion providers. In contrast, in Maryland—the state ranked first in the nation for advancing women’s leadership—women have an improved quality of life including better access to reproductive health services and a smaller wage gap than the national average.

So, women in Virginia have even more at stake as they evaluate Cuccinelli’s extensive record working to undermine women’s progress in the state. And women in state are paying attention. They understand that Cuccinelli’s policy stances would result in outlawing abortion, even in cases of rape, banning common forms of contraception, and moving forward with the approval of a proposal to force all women seeking an abortion to undergo an invasive, medically unnecessary, and expensive transvaginal ultrasound. Targeted outreach to women voters won’t erase the fact that in 2007, Cuccinelli signed onto a constitutional amendment stating life begins at conception. The impact of the “personhood amendment” is to outlaw abortion and to ensure that while fertilized eggs are protected with human rights, women lose their ability to make the best choices for themselves and their families.

In addition to supporting legislation that could lead to a complete ban on abortion and contraception, Cuccinelli has worked to damage the Affordable Care Act, which is crucial to improving women’s health in Virginia. If Cuccinelli gets his way in Virginia, it will once again be legal for insurance companies to discriminate against women. Women in Virginia are already facing an uphill battle to catch up to men in the state—almost 13 percent of women in the state are in poverty, compared to less than 10 percent of men and Virginian women earn 78 cents for every dollar a white male earns. The last thing women in Virginia need is for health insurance companies to once again be able to charge them more for coverage than their male counterparts.

In a few short weeks, Virginia voters—men and women—will decide whether to move their state forward and send a message to the country that they believe in political leadership that supports a woman’s ability to determine her own future.

In 1960, the Federal Drug Administration approved the first commercial use of birth control pills, giving women the freedom to make their own decisions about their future, leading to more economic security and advancement for women in the work place. This freedom has allowed for a more level playing field for women in the job market and provided more economic security for their families. By all accounts, Cuccinelli wants to take us back to a pre-1960s era to a time when glass ceilings hung low. Times have changed, and the 24 point gender gap playing out in the Governor’s race for Virginia shows that women voters want their birth control and the financial security that comes with it.


Buffy Wicks is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. She previously oversaw the Women’s Vote program for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.