In the wake of the defeat of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the governor's race, I hope we can say this is the end of the Republican Party as we know it. The key words being "as we know it," and how it has been the past few years. Many lifelong Republicans like me have seen our party co-opted by an extreme minority and turned into something we no longer recognize. The Republican Party used to stand for individual choice, personal responsibility and keeping the government out of places it does not belong. Unfortunately, it has evolved into an intolerant group of politicians who have no qualms using the power of government to deny women the ability to attain comprehensive health care and reproductive freedom.
Ken Cuccinelli personifies the narrow band of extreme politicians who have sent moderates and women fleeing from our party. For years he supported dangerous anti-women's health legislation in the legislature then used his position as the attorney general to further enforce his ideological agenda. After that, instead of being elected by the popular vote of a Republican primary he was selected to be the Republican nominee for governor by a small group of Republicans at a convention. A convention that put forth the most extreme statewide ticket for governor, lt. governor and attorney general any state has seen in modern history.
Cuccinelli's beliefs around women's health issues are not the way for Republicans to win elections and build the big tent our party was so famous for in the past. You cannot win a statewide election by restricting access to birth control, defunding Planned Parenthood and ending access to safe and legal abortion. Hence, Terry McAuliffe won in Virginia with a nine-point gender gap.
In 2012, Mitt Romney's anti-women's health views drove the biggest gender gap in recorded history. In 2013, the same thing happened to Ken Cuccinelli. The lesson for candidates in 2014 is unmistakable: Dismiss and demean women at your peril. Can enough election defeats -- like the ones just suffered in Virginia -- send a wake-up call to Republicans running for office around the country? It's hard to tell. Hundreds of bills continue to be introduced at the federal and state levels that would allow the government and the politicians who run it to make decisions which should be left to a woman, her family, her doctor and her faith. Women are left with an unprecedented level of restrictions on their rights and health needs.
Many people have asked me why I remain a Republican. My first vote was for Barry Goldwater for president in 1964. He was a staunch conservative and a supporter of abortion rights. He believed that personal decisions like whether to have a child or the size of one's family should be left to the individuals involved, not the government. After all this time I am not going to abandon the fight to get the Republican Party from these out of touch, extreme politicians.
I know there are many, many others like me. According to a United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll, the Republican Party's continued attacks on women's health are costing them significantly with women nationally. Despite efforts to address their party's "women problem," only 14 percent of respondents said the GOP had moved closer to their perspective since the 2012 elections. In fact, 33 percent of women said Republicans are headed in the opposite direction. Of those women who said the Republican Party had moved away from them, nearly three in five, 59 percent, said it was because the GOP had become "too conservative."
I know we have lost many to the other party or many have become independents -- particularly women -- but we can win the party back if we go to the ballot box and send a message just like the voters of Virginia did to Ken Cuccinelli, that you cannot win elections by opposing women's health and rights. Between the presidential election of 2012 and this week's Virginia governor's race it has become clear that women's health and how candidates approach women voters are key issues when it comes to wining an election. Republican candidates in 2014 and beyond should pay very close attention to this and consider returning to our party's core values of personal responsibility and individual liberty and leave a woman's personal medical decisions to her and her doctor.