Several Obama surrogates in Virginia opposed a popular law that ensures lengthy prison sentences for child rapists.
In March, the Virginia state legislature overwhelmingly passed a law that imposed automatic life sentences for any adult convicted of raping a child under the age of 13. The issue received scant attention and even less debate, according to Delegate Rob Bell (R.,Charlottesville), the bill’s sponsor.
"More than half of all rapes in Virginia are to children under 13," he said. "In the past two years we had 228 offenders, only 10 got life sentences. They were appallingly short."
Twenty-one state senators and delegates, all Democrats, voted nay on the bill, including a handful of prominent Obama supporters.
Opponents of the law visited the White House on at least 17 occasions, according to White House logs. Many are organizing for Obama in the highly charged race to capture Virginia’s 13 electoral votes. Sen. Louise Lucas, the Obama surrogate who claimed Romney’s surge in Virginia lay in "racism," Delegate Mamye BaCote, a leading member of VA Women for Obama, and five members of the Obama campaign’s Truth Team voted against the strict punishments.
"There’s been a trend within the legislature in the last ten years to impose more and more minimum mandatory sentences that reduce the discretion of juries and judges to render sentences that fit the crime," said Del. Scott Surovell (D., Fairfax). "I’m very skeptical of anyone second-guessing juries and communities and their ability to run a criminal case."
Surovell is a trial lawyer and a member of Obama’s Truth Team, which conducts opposition research against Romney supporters. He said the mandatory life sentences would allow prosecutors to strong-arm the accused child rapist’s defense, hampering his ability to secure a more lenient deal. It also prevents the jury from considering unique aspects of individual rape cases, such as the offender’s family background or community standards.
"You could have somebody who just turned 18 involved with someone who’s 12-and-a-half, and to say that 18-year-old should get life in prison should be up to a judge and jury from the community, not Richmond," he said. "These are constitutional rights that we fought for our independence from England for."
Bell, the Republican, said the nature of child-rape poses a unique risk to every community, regardless of local standards.
"Sex offenders have a lifelong proclivity to perpetrate their crime and that’s why you see so many repeat offenders; it’s not like armed robbery where you get to an age when you can’t do it anymore," he said. "The chance to reoffend will be impossible with this law and it will have a deterrent effect going forward."
Democrats have tried to use social issues at the state level, including Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s recent comments on rape, to appeal to their national base. The Obama campaign has also nationalized several pieces of abortion legislation in Virginia to paint the Romney-Ryan ticket as extremist.
Surovell concedes that the vote could prove problematic for Democrats during an election year.
"[The bill] makes for good campaign mailers and TV ads," he said.
Obama leads Romney by two points in Virginia, according to RealClearPolitics.