From NBC's Mark Murray and Ali Weinberg
In an extraordinary, hour-long conference call, Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob McDonnell said he repudiated some of the words he wrote in his now-controversial 1989 Regent University graduate thesis -- including writing that feminism was an enemy to the traditional family and criticizing contraception for unmarried couples.
"Since 1989, my views on a number of things have changed," he told reporters on the call. "I am fully supportive of women working in the workplace. My wife works, my daughters work."
He also said on the call that he "fully" supports "equal pay for men and women," and said he would "do nothing" to change the state's laws on contraception.
Although admitting that his views have changed, McDonnell took issue with opponent Creigh Deeds' campaign in raising his 1989 thesis as a campaign issue. He said Deeds "continues to focus on divisive issues," as well as "former presidents, former governors and decades-old term papers," while McDonnell is focusing on issues like jobs, transportation, and energy.
"I think it's unfortunate, but not completely surprising, ... that he would turn to the divisive social issues to generate" enthusiasm for a campaign that's currently trailing in the polls.
And McDonnell said he was insulted that Deeds doesn't think he supports working women -- several times citing his daughter who served in Iraq. "I am insulted by Sen. Deeds that I somehow don't support working women or women in the workplace."
Deeds senior adviser Mo Elleithee issued this response to McDonnell's conference call: "Despite Bob McDonnell's stunning repudiation of his own agenda and 20 year legislative record, he still hasn't answered the simple questions that were posed to him repeatedly. What positions has he changed his mind about, when did he change them, and why?"
Elleithee added, "The fact is for 20 years, Bob McDonnell has promoted a social agenda that is outside of the mainstream. It's what he wrote his thesis about, and it's how he's legislated. He just hoped no one would notice while he was running for governor."
In his conference call, McDonnell spent at least 45 minutes fielding tough questions from reporters. One asked -- citing McDonnell's Catholic faith -- why he opposed abortion but supported the death penalty. "I have struggled with that," he replied.
Saying that he takes "no pleasure in it" and "no comfort in it," McDonnell added, "I believe it was ... the proper duty of the government, in limited circumstances, to mete out capital punishment."
To McDonnell's point that the opinions he laid out in his thesis have changed over the past 20 years, one reporter pointed out that McDonnell was 34 years old at the time he wrote it, and that "it was the '80s and not the '50s." She asked how voters were supposed to know whether his beliefs had truly changed, despite his being a grown man when he wrote the paper.
Another question followed on McDonnell's assertion that his views have been shaped by his real-world experiences over the past 20 years -- whether any personal relationships McDonnell had with gay people had informed his views on same-sex marriage. McDonnell said his beliefs against same-sex marriage had not changed, though "any other normal civil liberties should be fully protected" for gay couples.