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Abortion foes focus on vote in Virginia

Group seeking clout, catalyst

WASHINGTON — A leading antiabortion group plans to use Virginia’s 2013 statewide races as a strategic proving ground ahead of next year’s midterm elections, raising the stakes in a gubernatorial contest marked by heated debate over social issues.

The Susan B. Anthony List said in February that it would spend $1.5 million to boost Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, a Republican, in his gubernatorial race against Democrat Terry McAuliffe. But the group’s interest in the commonwealth goes beyond its pledge to Cuccinelli, a longtime abortion foe.

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‘‘We have made Virginia a priority state for 2013,’’ the SBA List says in its plan. ‘‘We propose a massive investment there, seeking to make 2013 a template for wider victories in the midterm elections in 2014.’’

The escalation of the abortion battle shows that groups on both sides of the debate recognize the importance of Virginia’s November contest. Democrats, including McAuliffe’s campaign, have sought to make abortion and women’s health issues a focus of the race, while Cuccinelli has tried to focus on economic issues.

It may be harder for Cuccinelli to avoid discussing the issue now that he is joined on the Republican ticket by Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson and state Senator Mark D. Obenshain, the GOP’s lieutenant governor and attorney general nominees, both of whom oppose abortion.

The SBA List says its ‘‘budget is comprehensive’’ and will include TV, radio, and online ads, live phone banks, and direct mail to develop an effective message that can be deployed to other states next year.

A copy of the plan was provided to the Washington Post by the Bridge Project, an offshoot of the pro-Democratic opposition-research group American Bridge 21st Century. The Bridge Project and NARAL Pro-Choice America are expected to release a report this week designed to portray the SBA List as an ‘‘extreme group’’ with a ‘‘radical agenda.’’

The report will be accompanied by a social media campaign attacking the SBA List as ‘‘anti-choice’’ and ‘‘anti-women.’’

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of SBA List, confirmed the details of the group’s strategy and said Republicans in Virginia and elsewhere are miscalculating by avoiding discussion of abortion.

‘‘It’s a hangover from bad handling in the presidential race on the Republican side [that] led to a conclusion that you never talk about’’ abortion, said Dannenfelser, who referred to Virginia’s election as ‘‘pivotal.’’

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