Lead Stories
Shelia Johnson and Bob McDonnell (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

She-power

Politics | Powerful women gather in Northern Virginia to talk about an issue dominating the state's race for governor

MCLEAN, Va.-Twelve days remain in the Virginia governor's race, and Republican Bob McDonnell has a lead of about 10 percent in polls over Democrat Creigh Deeds.

One issue that has dominated Deeds' campaign against McDonnell is the Republican's 1989 master's thesis, where he describes women in the workplace as detrimental to families and feminism as one of the "enemies" of the traditional family. Groups like Working Women for Virginia have aired ads expressing outrage over McDonnell's "extreme views on women."

Despite the criticism, recent polls show women voters divided evenly between Deeds and McDonnell, though a Washington Post poll showed that more women trust Deeds to handle women's issues than McDonnell. Some believe that Deeds' harping on the thesis from 20 years ago has begun to hurt him because no voters know what kind of governor Deeds would be.

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Meanwhile, the McDonnell campaign has ramped up its outreach to women, showcasing McDonnell's working wife and supporters who are powerful women in the business world. His daughters, Jeanine and Cailin, spoke Wednesday evening at a dinner for women in Northern Virginia. They shared about having to babysit their younger three siblings while their mom went to work, with Jeanine describing how she led a platoon of 25 men in Iraq in 2005.

"He said, you can lead those men and bring them all home safe," Jeanine said about her father.

Northern Virginia holds many coveted votes for McDonnell, including a hefty portion of independent to liberal voters who reside there.

Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television and part-owner of the WNBA's Washington Mystics, the NBA's Washington Wizards, and the NHL's Washington Capitals, has given millions to Democratic candidates in the past, including Barack Obama and current Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. But she endorsed McDonnell at the end of July-before the thesis came to light.

Still she stumps for him, joining McDonnell's daughters Wednesday evening to speak to a ballroom full of powerful Washington suburban women, including Susan Allen, wife of former Virginia Gov. George Allen, and Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King Jr. First thing she told the women to do is kick off their high-heel shoes-which Maureen McDonnell did promptly, standing in her bare feet alongside her two daughters.

"I, as Shelia Johnson, would not have come out and endorsed Bob McDonnell if I sat and believed what the press was saying about him and how he treated women," she said, adding she admires McDonnell's "moral compass" and he is "the smartest person I have met in a long time."

Johnson continued, saying, "This is the kind of person we need-and I'm going to talk with the business hat-as the CEO of Virginia. It's not so much about politics, but he is running a state."

Her audience of about 75 women showed diversity-at least a third of the women there were black, a demographic in Virginia that almost uniformly votes Democratic.

Aside from the issue of wooing women voters, McDonnell has the wind at his back in a number of ways. The unemployment rate has grown since President Obama took office. And since 1976, Virginia has elected governors from the party opposite of the one in the White House.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.

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