- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 30, 2008

The issue of abortion is not resonating with Virginia voters, despite attempts by Delegate Robert G. Marshall to make it the centerpiece of his campaign for the Republican nomination for Senate, party officials say.

“I don’t think it is going to be the defining issue in Virginia,” said Tom Kopko, chairman of the Prince William County Republican Committee. “Abortion is an important issue to many people, particularly the Republican base, but I think in Virginia it has not been the deciding factor in people’s votes. I think people decide to vote more on transportation and education with abortion being an important factor.”

Mr. Marshall, 63, is taking on former Gov. James S. Gilmore III, 58, and political newcomer Robert Berry, 51, for the nomination in May for the right to replace retiring Sen. John W. Warner. The winner is expected to face popular former Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, in November.

Both Mr. Marshall and Mr. Gilmore have been busy reaching out to local Republican committees across the state over the phone and talking to grassroots activists at the “mass-meetings” where local parties choose delegates to attend the May convention.

“He has worked the pro-life community pretty hard,” James Hyland, Fairfax County Republican chairman, said of Mr. Marshall.

A party official from central Virginia, who asked not to be identified, said the Marshall camp is telling people they are “not conservative enough” if they support abortion in cases of rape and incest.

“If we focus solely on that social issue, we are going to get our clocks cleaned,” the official said, referring to the coming contest against Mr. Warner.

Asked whether the race will turn on the issue of abortion, Trixie Averill, a Gilmore supporter and western vice chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia’s State Central Committee, said, “I sincerely hope not.”

“I would like to think we got beyond that,” she said. “We made a lot of strides on the pro-life issues and a lot of them were done during the Gilmore administration. As far as I am concerned, there are many other issues out there right now.”

In a January poll of Virginia voters’ thoughts on the presidential election, abortion did not rank as an issue of concern. Voters instead identified the economy, the war in Iraq, immigration, national security, health care, Social Security and government ethics and corruption as their top concerns, according to the Fox 5/The Washington Times/Rasmussen Reports poll.

Chuck Smith, chairman of the Virginia Beach Republican Party, questioned the effectiveness of using abortion as an issue in the race, saying that “there is some concern” that the issue will sully the contest. The Gilmore campaign earlier this month demanded an apology from Mr. Marshall for what it described as his “repugnant” attacks.

When he announced his candidacy in January, Mr. Marshall’s first promise was to protect the “right to life of all children from conception.”

The statement was widely seen as a jab at Mr. Gilmore, who said last year: “There has to be some time for the baby to form in the womb, which I think happens at eight weeks. And after that, I think that abortion should be limited except to save the life of the mother.”

Since then, Mr. Marshall has criticized Republicans for supporting Mr. Gilmore, saying they are wrong to support someone who believes government should not intrude during the first eight weeks of pregnancy.

“Marshall is going to try to show Gilmore is not the best candidate because he did not take the stance on abortion that Marshall thinks he should,” Mr. Smith said. “And I think Gilmore will try to paint Marshall as ultra-conservative and too far to the right on some issues.”

In response, Mr. Gilmore has highlighted his record on the subject as governor and collected the support of top Republicans who consider themselves pro-life — including Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.

“We have the support of a large number of pro-life leaders in the state of Virginia and, really, that is the only thing Bob Marshall has run on in any serious way,” he said last week.

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