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Now that conservatives have won the battle of ideas, they are faced with a new and far more difficult challenge: How to win the feelings and the souls of those whose minds have gone soft from lack of use.

The Clinton administration is about form and feelings, but nothing about substance and intellectual stimulation. The "right" to federally supported child care is only the latest attempt by liberals to reach us through our nerve endings rather than through our brain stems. "Feelings, nothing more than feelings" goes their song.

Liberal writers such as E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Bob Herbert of the New York Times are predicting a liberal -- or "progressive," as they euphemistically call it -- revival. They appear to base this on a belief that feelings are more important than truth. Also, on their perception of human nature, which makes it easier to convince some people that their lack of progress in life is because they are victims of the oppressive rich class.

If the polls are accurate, the battle for the mind in Virginia is being won by conservatives. Republican James Gilmore III has built a substantial lead over Democrat Don Beyer Jr. in the race to succeed the state's popular Republican governor George Allen.

Beyer, who is so classically liberal he has a dealership that sells Volvos -- the pace car of the elite Left -- has run a predictably liberal race. Even before he kicked off his campaign, Beyer said he would raise taxes and spend more on public education.

Beyer also thought the abortion issue would help him win. In recent weeks in northern Virginia, a heavily liberal area, Beyer's entire campaign seems to be built on abortion rights. He's tried to cast Gilmore as an extremist because Gilmore believes parents of minor children should be informed before their grandchildren are aborted. Shifting the emphasis only days before the election, Beyer now says government can't "afford" to eliminate the personal property tax.

Beyer's abortion strategy has failed. In a Washington Post poll, 74 percent stand with Gilmore on parental notification. A majority also agree with Gilmore (who has since backed away from this position) that a married woman should be required to tell her husband before getting an abortion.

Gilmore has successfully portrayed Beyer as a flip-flopper on the personal property tax and several other issues. In other words, voters think Beyer is a lot like Bill Clinton -- not trustworthy and difficult to pin down as to what he actually believes. Only 26 percent of those surveyed believe Beyer "sticks to his positions."

What is interesting about this race is that Gilmore has restored the tax issue to the heart of the GOP message. And, significantly for the national party, he has stated a moderate position on one part of the abortion issue that resonates most strongly with voters. While a majority still favor abortion rights, a majority also believe too many are performed and want some restrictions. Gilmore is giving Virginia voters a chance to vote their true beliefs without taking the all-or-nothing approach of some on the pro-life and pro-choice sides.

As with the "Republican revolution" in Congress and nationalized health care, the public has indicated it doesn't like dramatic change. It likes politics in small doses so it can measure success or failure along the way. Gilmore's seven-point lead in the polls shows that he has correctly measured the people's mood. If he wins, that should put at least a temporary halt to the claim by liberals that they are on the verge of a revival.

Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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