Politics

Can He Unite Virginia’s GOP?

Old Dominion Republicans have picked E.W. Jackson, a socially conservative ordained minister, as their lieutenant governor nominee.

By 5.22.13

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — E.W. Jackson played every card in the deck to win Virginia's Republican lieutenant governor nomination Saturday night in Richmond — a rousing speech, a dedicated base, and charismatic appeal to undecided conservative delegates.

Now, though, the media spotlight is turning to controversial comments Jackson has made about the gay community and claims about Barack Obama’s alleged “Muslim perspective." He’s going to have to convince a divided Virginia GOP and the electorate at large that he is ready for primetime.

Jackson, an ordained minister and former Massachusetts lawyer, has limited political experience. He campaigned for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate last summer, but garnered less than 5 percent of the vote. His strength lies in a populist appeal that rails against establishment GOP members at odds with the Tea Party movement.

“The working class in this country has not gotten representation in either party, I believe,” Jackson’s Nelson County campaign coordinator, Russ Simpson, said Saturday night. “E.W. gives us that ray of hope. I’ve got three kids. They’re in college. It’s hard. You’ve got to have somebody like E.W. Jackson to motivate people. We need more people like him to give that ray of hope because we don’t have it anymore. We’ve just got people butting heads and doing politics on party lines. I’m sick of it.”

But Jackson still has to unify a state party that seems more divided than ever, with Democrats using the candidate’s comments like a cudgel to bash the fragmented GOP.

“I can see why there is a lot of concern on the Republican side, because he doesn’t exactly have a track record of being a proven candidate,” said Geoff Skelley, media relations coordinator for the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “Does that mean he can’t go out and win? Absolutely not. He may pass the test with flying colors, but I do think there is a lot of ammunition out there for Democrats to attack him with.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe hosted a conference call Monday on which former GOP delegates Vincent Callahan and Katherine Waddell blasted the Republican ticket of gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli, Jackson, and Mark Obenshain, who is running for attorney general.

“This ticket is composed of three men who are focused exclusively on intruding into Virginians’ personal lives. This extremism does not support real Republican ideals and is not supported by the majority of Virginians,” Waddell said on the call.

Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of RedState.com,  tweeted on Monday: "A number of Republicans actually want the Va-GOP to fail so they can then bolster their case to abandon socially conservative candidates."

Jamie Radtke, a tea party activist and Jackson’s opponent during last year’s Senate primary contest, went against Jackson at the convention, backing the more mainstream Pete Snyder ahead of the fourth ballot vote.

Jackson used a convention to his advantage, bringing in solid delegates and captivating the undecided with a dynamic speech that catapulted him to front-runner status.

“I am running for lieutenant governor of Virginia for one primary reason, to make sure Virginia remains sovereign and free,” Jackson said during his speech Saturday.

“We want you to fulfill your dreams, to be able to support your family and to know that your children will be able to have a better life than the life you have had.”

Skelley said Jackson’s triumph, in a way, resembles Obama’s defeat of presumed front-runner Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary.

“There was this assumption going in in that Hilary Clinton was the odds-on favorite, Obama’s team understood the rules of the game better, how to get delegates counts,” he said. “Jackson and his team apparently had a good understanding of what they needed to do to win.”

But after withstanding a four-ballot challenge from a deep field of GOP contenders, Jackson must tack his campaign appeal to the broad electorate of Virginia, whose identity is undetermined following the 2012 elections.

Democrats lined up to attack the candidate minutes after Jackson received the nomination, painting him as more extreme than Cuccinelli, a tea party favorite.

“He’s an intriguing choice for the Republican Party, especially in light of Ken Cuccinelli’s long history of activism on social issues,” said Craig Brians, chairman of Virginia Tech’s political science department. “(Jackson) seems to be cut of the same cloth, but he poses a serious challenge for Democrats, who oftentimes takes the African-American vote for granted.

“This choice forces Democrats in Virginia to define themselves in terms of policy and what do they offer the African-American community.”

Jackson’s campaign did not respond to calls requesting comment.

Reprinted with permission from Watchdog.org.

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About the Author
Carten Cordell is a reporter in the Virginia bureau of watchdog.org.