- The Washington Times - Monday, August 13, 2001

RICHMOND — Abortion, homosexual rights and the lingering racial unease over Virginia's Confederate past normally would be among the clearest distinctions between Republican and Democratic candidates in a governor's race.
This year, they're almost afterthoughts in the campaigns of Democrat Mark Warner and Republican Mark Earley, and where they differ, the differences are usually subtle and nuanced.
On abortion, neither man advocates the repeal of existing abortion laws, though Mr. Earley, Virginia's attorney general, favors requiring parental consent for underage daughters seeking abortions. Mr. Warner favors keeping the law as it is, requiring only that parents be notified.
The hottest new right-to-life topic, research on embryonic stem-cells, has produced differences.
Mr. Earley opposes all research that destroys embryos. Stem-cell experiments destroy embryos, but scientists say the findings could yield cures for such diseases as cancer, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Church leaders want President Bush to deny federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research.
Mr. Warner, whose last statewide race was in 1996 when he failed to unseat Sen. John Warner, opposes creating embryos specifically for stem-cell research. He supports work done with frozen, excess embryos created through in-vitro fertilization treatments to help couples have children, provided the couples consent and the embryos are marked for destruction. He bases his position on causes dear to him: His 11-year-old daughter, Madison, is diabetic and his mother has Alzheimer's.
Mr. Earley supports a ban on the late-term procedure abortion foes call "partial-birth abortion," except to protect the life of the mother, though courts have struck down such bans.
"I think we can do one that would meet constitutional muster," Mr. Earley said in an interview with Associated Press editors and reporters.
Mr. Warner also supports a ban with exceptions that protect the life or physical health of the mother.
Though Mr. Warner criticized a bill the legislature passed this year that imposes a 24-hour waiting period for women who seek abortions, he does not plan to challenge it.
" That is now law, and that is not a fight I am going to be taking on," Mr. Warner told the AP panel.
Mr. Earley has been a point man for right-to-life groups throughout his 10 years in the state Senate and his term as attorney general. His office successfully defended the parental notice law and enthusiastically backed the 24-hour wait for abortions against fierce resentment from abortion rights and women's groups. He failed, however, in a last-minute legal effort in 1998, to prevent a woman from removing the feeding tube that sustained her brain-injured husband, allowing him to die rather than live in a persistent vegetative state.
Mr. Earley successfully defended the state's law requiring all public school students to observe a minute of silence at the start of each school day, despite protests that it was an effort to sanction school prayer and violated the constitutional principle of church-state separation.
Mr. Warner, however, also supports the moment of silence law, said campaign spokesman Mo Elleithee.
Mr. Earley is the champion of politically active Christian conservatives. Through mid-July, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson of Virginia Beach had contributed $30,000 to Mr. Earley's campaign.
By not attacking Mr. Earley as an extremist on social issues, Mr. Warner is deliberately breaking with the game plan Democrats have used, mostly without success, in statewide elections for many years, said Virginia Commonwealth University political scientist Robert Holsworth.
"I think Warner would prefer to run his campaign targeted at people who have not voted Democratic in a while, and he thinks social issues have a potentially polarizing effect," Mr. Holsworth said. "He doesn't necessarily believe that highlighting these as prime dividing points between Democrats and Republicans works for the Democrats in Virginia."
Mr. Earley is an unusually difficult target for Democrats on race issues. He is a longtime member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and he enjoys an easy rapport with many other minority groups, especially Asians, from his service as a missionary in the Philippines.
Neither candidate is inclined to honor the Old South with proclamations, as Virginia's governors have for years. By proclaiming April 2000 as Confederate Heritage Month, Gov. James S. Gilmore III prompted threats of a statewide economic boycott by the NAACP. This year's proclamation honoring Rebel and Yankee alike brought impassioned scorn from Confederate heritage groups.
Mr. Earley said he would "de-emphasize the whole idea of the governor proclaiming months and weeks for different things and let organizations that want to do their thing, do their thing."
A white-supremacist group denounced Mr. Earley's NAACP membership and urged its backers to write in Gen. Robert E. Lee on their ballots this fall. The Sons of Confederate Veterans assailed Mr. Earley for battling in federal court as attorney general against a special SCV license plate bearing the Confederate battle flag.
Mr. Warner enjoys broad support from black voters. Twelve years ago, he managed the campaign of the only black American ever elected governor: Virginia's L. Douglas Wilder. He speaks Spanish and has used it campaigning in Northern Virginia, which has a flourishing Hispanic population.
He flatly rejects the idea of a Confederacy proclamation. "I think there are ways we can honor our history and traditions without inflaming folks on either side," he said.
On the issue of sexual orientation, both oppose extending benefits to the partners of homosexual state employees.
Mr. Earley opposes adding homosexuals to the list of groups covered by Virginia's hate-crimes law.
"I think the whole idea of the hate-crimes laws is very problematic to begin with because my view is that any time there is a violent crime, it ought to be punished significantly and it ought to be punished severely," Mr. Earley said.
Mr. Warner said he would consider expanding hate-crimes law protection to homosexuals.
"I don't think that people should be discriminated against," he said.
Mr. Earley also said he would preserve Virginia's law that makes sodomy a crime. "I think the law has served Virginia well and the law is used in an appropriate fashion, to prohibit conduct that occurs in public, in public places, in ways that can be dangerous to public health in the community," he said.
Mr. Warner, however, was persistently evasive on the point. Asked repeatedly whether he backed repealing Virginia's anti-sodomy law, he grinned and gave the same answer three times: "I don't think that's going to pass the legislature any time soon."

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