August 31st, 2009
04:20 PM ET
11 years ago

McDonnell blasted for controversial research paper

Republican Bob McDonnell, who earned a master's degree at Pat Robertson's Regent University, is seeking the Virginia governorship.

Republican Bob McDonnell, who earned a master's degree at Pat Robertson's Regent University, is seeking the Virginia governorship.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Eager to draw attention Bob McDonnell's conservative roots, campaign advisers to Democrat Creigh Deeds on Monday called McDonnell's newly-discovered 1989 graduate thesis a "devastating" revelation that threatens to sink the Republican's campaign for the Virginia governor's mansion.

The 93-page research paper - first revealed in Sunday's Washington Post - articulated a Christian conservative worldview that criticized "cohabitators, homosexuals and fornicators" and described working women and feminists "detrimental" to the family.

On a conference call with reporters, Deeds adviser Mo Elleithee called the thesis McDonnell's "road map" for conservative governance. The Deeds camp argued that McDonnell immediately sought to put his theories to work in state government when he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates three years after writing the paper, which McDonnell wrote as master's student at Regent University in Virginia Beach.

Regent was founded by Pat Robertson and was initially named "CBN University" after Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. McDonnell wrote the paper when he was 34, twenty years before entering the Virginia governor's race.

"This paper laid out very explicity his vision for the role of government, his vision for the for a social agenda that should dominate governace, and it even went beyond just a personal political philosophy," Elleithee said. "It had a 15-point action plan for how to implement that philosophy."

The thesis was called "The Republican Party's Vision for the Family: The Compelling Issue of the Decade." In it, McDonnell wrote that working women are "detrimental" the the family; that feminism is among "the real enemies of the traditional family"; and that the "purging" of religious influence in public schools is damaging to healthy families.

McDonnell's campaign said his views have changed over time and that Deeds is "seeking to make an issue of a decades-old academic paper." McDonnell's team noted that he once pushed to include child day care in a welfare bill so that women could have greater freedom to work, and that he is a husband and father of "strong working women."

The Deeds campaign, lagging the polls, is eager to highlight McDonnell's conservative pedigree, a background the Republican nominee has downplayed on the campaign trail. Instead, McDonnell has portrayed himself as a pro-business moderate and has captured endorsements from several leading business groups in the commonwealth. Last week, for instance, his campaign launched their first TV ad of the general election, a spot that focuses on energy and green jobs.

Deeds, meanwhile, has tried to publicize McDonnell's opposition to abortion rights in hopes of swaying moderate voters away from McDonnell, particularly in more liberal northern Virginia. The discovery of research paper fits neatly into the narrative the Deeds campaign is trying to create: that McDonnell is not the candidate he says he is.

"This has the potential to really change the dynamics of the race," Elleithee said, noting that Virginia voters are only now starting to pay attention to the governor's race with just two months left until election day.

The Deeds campaign kept up their offensive throughout the day on Monday, e-mailing supporters to solicit donations and sending background material to reporters outlining McDonnell's legislative record in the House of Delegates, where he served before becoming Virginia's Attorney General in 2006.

The Democratic Party of Virginia and the Democratic National Committee also issued statements on the McDonnell thesis, with the DNC calling it "nothing short of a game changer in this election."

UPDATE: Democratic National Committee chairman and Virginia governor Tim Kaine also chimed in Monday, sending an e-mail to his political action committee encouraging supporters to read the Post article. Kaine writes that McDonnell's paper "ontains references to policy positions - such as opposition to contraception and child care availability - that most Virginians would find quite troubling."

UPDATE 2: McDonnell himself held court with reporters via conference call for more than an hour on Monday, distancing himself from elements of the thesis but not completely repudiating it in its entirety. The Republican candidate said that much of the language in the paper was simply a response to the academic and political discourse of the time. He said he has not gone back and re-read the entire thesis.

"I just sort of looked at the opening and what the premise was," he said at one point.

While he stressed his continuing commitment to a "strong two-parent family," McDonnell forcefully backed off language in the paper that criticized working women or gays. "Any of the language in there that in any way denigrates the basic dignity or worth of any human being, I very much regret that," he said.

McDonnell pledged that as governor, he would not try to change existing laws on abortion or contraceptives.

He said his beliefs are rooted in his Catholic faith: "Based on my Catholic teaching the institution of family goes back to the dawn of time - most people of the Christian faith believe that - to the Garden of Eden."

The Republican also repeatedly chided his Democratic rival for trying to make an issue out of a "decades-old" research paper. "I am insulted by Sen. Deeds to be able to suggest today that I don't support working women or women in the workforce," he said.

Filed under: Bob McDonnell • Creigh Deeds • Virginia
soundoff (300 Responses)
  1. rich

    Is McDonnell the "Great White Hope" the republicans are looking for?

    August 31, 2009 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  2. phoenix86

    Deeds focus is on a paper written in college more than 10 years ago? That's it? What about the issues of today? What about the exploding deficit, expanding federal government, out of control spending, energy independence, the economy? Does Deed have any thoughts on that or does he just focus on issues a decade old?

    Pretty pathetic for the dems in VA.

    August 31, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  3. Mike

    What a 'jerk' ! Boy.., the Republican Party is in worse shape than what I thought. Mike in Montana

    August 31, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  4. calstate

    Vote GOP.....bring back the Crusades

    August 31, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  5. Tim

    The democratic comment seems like a relegious smear to me.

    August 31, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  6. Tony

    Desperate. Desperate. Desperate. I was thinking about voting for Deeds, but now not a chance. Didn't the Republicans try to do the same thing to Jim Webb??

    August 31, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  7. Andy


    August 31, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  8. T.J. Fod

    This is the height of TV Network bias.

    Here we have an Obama administration peopled by authors of highway to a radical restructuring of the U.S. government (see Van Johnson) and it is NOT reported on, and we have this guy running for governor of a state and his thesis is being used as a roadmap for governance?

    This is why you are NOT the most trusted name in news by middle-America.

    T.J. Fod

    August 31, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  9. Clark W Griswold

    Wow, doesn't sound that much far removed from the Taliban world view.

    Religous fundamentalism of ANY kind is just not a good thing, and certainly not something that belongs within our politics.

    August 31, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  10. Gary

    In a free country we ought to be able to cohabitate and fornicate (mm, or mf) but I'm not sure if it is detrimental to the family....maybe it would make an interesting read, lol. If Democrats are sooo open minded, they would at least read that paper (I, Iike them would probably disagree with the conclusions but would be open minded enough to read the argument before attacking him).

    August 31, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  11. Frances

    Views McDonnell held in 1989 may not be the views he still holds today. Let us give McDonnell the opportunity to clarify. Also, before we jump on McDonnell in regards to his thesis, let us uncover and read Obama's thesis and research papers. Oh, that's right, we can't because Obama has had his attorneys seal these documents, school records, passport and travel documents among others, so we cannot see them.

    August 31, 2009 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  12. Shasta

    CNN, maybe for Christmas your viewers should send your contributors a thesaurus. Not every headline needs "blasts" or "slams" in it. Get new verbs!

    As for McDonnell...disgusting. Glad I'm not in Virginia and have this guy potentially representing me. Statements like the ones made in that paper are the reason I have no desire to have kids- family has almost become a dirty word.

    August 31, 2009 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  13. makesUwonder

    If we're going to point fingers at people lets put out the papers written by Mr. and Mrs. Obama from their days in college.

    August 31, 2009 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  14. AntiRush

    People like Bob McDonell are the real enemy to all families.

    August 31, 2009 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  15. Greg

    You'd think it takes less than 90 pages to say barefoot and pregnant. Ha ha conservatives are funny!

    August 31, 2009 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  16. Linda

    I find it incredibe in this day and age that there are people who still believe that women should not have equal rights. Working women, feminists detrimental to the family? Bull! In all fairness to Governor McDonnell he says, his views have changed, however if he were a democrat republicans would be using the stupid terrm... flip flop!!

    August 31, 2009 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  17. Dave T

    Oh look. Another bible-thumping creep from a bible college who thinks that gender gives him the right to rule.

    August 31, 2009 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  18. Irene

    How could this not be a surprise to the GOP? Their members have been homophobic, anti-feminine, elitist, racists who have used the church and their government to keep the white man in power. This is why all churches should be taxed for the businesses they are. We need to stop footing the bill for these jerks now. Tax em all!

    August 31, 2009 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  19. Turkey

    Sadly, this may gain McDonnell support in Virginia.

    August 31, 2009 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  20. 2pacolypse Now

    Typical Republican hypocrite. This is no story. I mean Pat Robertson, Regent, GOP, this is their mantra. What McDonnell should do is stay true to himself and not flip flop or else that's when he's gonna be in trouble. I have more respect for somebody, no matter how slimey and shady, who admits, these are my views and I'm sticking to them than I do for flip floppers of the moment.

    August 31, 2009 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  21. Hudson

    It's time these religious conservatives were forced out of office. This type of attitude is too prevalent in government, and focuses on narrow-minded/inconsequential 'problems' when there are MANY larger issues that actually matter out there.
    Sarah Palin, and George W. Bush (to name a couple) should have proved this to the American people with their inadequecies. We'll just have to wait and see if anyone was paying attention.

    August 31, 2009 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  22. Johio

    Having a master's degree from Regent University is reason enough to vote against this clown. That place is like the U.S version of a post-secondary madrassas.

    August 31, 2009 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  23. Johnny DC

    Typical move by the Democrats - bring up something in the very distant past and try to pawn it off and mislead the public... especially segmented groups of the public (in this case, women and gays).

    Reminiscent of when Obama painted McCain as a woman-hater for his vote on legislation that had less to do with women's rights as it had to do with protection for small businesses from crippling litigation.

    The Democrats are just as evil as the GOP, but somehow they chocolate-coat it and everyone eats it up.

    August 31, 2009 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  24. Jeff, Huntington Beach, CA

    I wonder if he is still living in the hypocritical stone age.... any degree from a school founded by Pat Robertson should not be worth the paper it is written on.

    Whatever happened to the separation of church and state? Would anybody in their right mind elect Pat Robertson (or one of his minions) to public office?

    August 31, 2009 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  25. Fred in Cypress

    The Deeds campaign is apparently unable or unwilling to challenge the paper on the issues. There is a much recent research indicating that children with a stay at home mom do better than those shuffled off to day-care. So why is McDonnell's position on this so terrible? True feminism can never be detrimental to the family, however a false feminism is. The political feminism of the time was such a false feminism, which went beyond the good of affirming women's contributions to corporate and civic life and sought to devalue the choice to stay at home and raise a family. So who is the arrogant one here?

    August 31, 2009 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
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