VA-Governor: Bob McDonnell's Counterattack

posted by Josh Goodman One of most difficult decisions a political campaign has to make is how to respond to allegations of scandal. If you
October 5, 2009

posted by Josh Goodman

One of most difficult decisions a political campaign has to make is how to respond to allegations of scandal.

If you don't challenge the allegations, you lose the opportunity to persuade voters that they aren't true. That's what happened to John Kerry after he he took weeks to respond to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

If you do respond to allegations, you risk giving a broader platform than they otherwise would have enjoyed. Gary Bauer's quest for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 floundered in part because, as the New York Times put it, he "called a news conference to deny rumors almost no one had heard -- about improprieties no one seems to believe occurred." Bauer became the candidate who denied he'd had an extramarital affair, which, while better than being the candidate who admitted to an extramarital affair, still isn't a good thing.

With that context, Bob McDonnell, the Republican nominee for governor in Virginia, seems to be having success finding a middle ground between responding and not to the allegations that came out of graduate thesis -- that he opposes contraception, opposes working women, etc.

His strategy appears to be twofold. First, he's addressing the issues obliquely, by including tons of women in his ads. For example, this ad and this ad don't mention the thesis. If you hadn't heard about the thesis, they probably wouldn't clue you into the controversy. Both allow the McDonnell campaign to stress issues he'd probably be emphasizing anyways (supporting the military, fighting sexual predators), while also sending the message that he's not a sexist.

Secondly, he's trying to play offense and defense at the same time by attacking Deeds for dishonest attacks. This ad is one example of that:

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