Correction: In the headline of the print version of this story, E.W. Jackson was referred to as “Johnson.” This version has been corrected.
E.W. Jackson sounds a tad overwhelmed on his cellphone voice mail.
“This is E.W. Jackson, Republican nominee for lieutenant governor,” the message says. “As you can imagine, since I’ve won the nomination . . . my phone has been ringing off the hook. Please be patient; we will get back to you.”
The message then refers callers to campaign manager Greg Aldridge and an office telephone number.
If Aldridge misses a call, a cellphone is cheerfully answered by his son.
“You’ve reached my Dad,” the greeting starts, before callers are asked to leave a message. No mention is made of Jackson or Aldridge’s role in the campaign.
Jackson’s surprising win last month at the Republican Party of Virginia’s convention was the equivalent of lightning in a bottle for the Chesapeake minister, who placed fourth of four candidates in last year’s GOP primary for U.S. Senate. The relative newcomer to commonwealth politics now finds himself in unfamiliar territory on his first statewide general campaign.
When asked about his campaign’s preparedness at voter meet-and-greet in Manassas, Jackson demurred before returning to supporters.
Notice of Jackson’s solo news conference Wednesday, his first since the convention, was sent the night before as a statewide primary marred by technical problems at the State Board of Elections was underway. The next day he spoke to reporters, taking questions from a podium in a Manassas hotel conference room.
With the exception of admitting past drug use, Jackson mostly recounted what he told The Washington Post earlier this month: He was a foster child who became a Marine and a minister and who once struggled to reconcile his faith and politics, but now lets the former guide the latter.
He recently submitted an incomplete campaign finance disclosure form, including a late filing on a $25,000 loan that led state election officials to fine his campaign. Asked whether the campaign resolved the issue, Jackson responded: “I’ve got my hands full. But it’s being taken care of.”
Many on his campaign staff are quantities unknown to more seasoned GOP political operatives.
Aldridge is on loan from the Roanoke Tea Party. Jackson’s wife, elementary school teacher Theodora Jackson, is listed on disclosure forms as treasurer. Chris Merola, the campaign’s press secretary, is president of Merrifield-based Red Momentum Strategies, a consulting group “to right-leaning candidates and organizations,” according to its Web site. Campaign driver Karene Thomas worked on Jackson’s Senate bid and is a member of his church, Exodus Faith Ministries.
Jackson, who has been criticized for remarksabout homosexuality, race and abortion, has centered his campaign around messages of personal freedom and opportunity. But he said this week that he would take another look at this year’s landmark transportation legislation because many Virginians oppose higher taxes. His campaign, he said, was working on a “comprehensive plan.”
Jackson and his GOP running mates, gubernatorial nominee and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II and attorney general nominee Mark D. Obenshain, a Republican state senator from Harrisonburg, campaigned together in days following the convention. Since then, the three have largely campaigned separately, but they deny suggestions the ticket is not unified.
“We’re all running separate campaigns,” said Cuccinelli strategist Chris LaCivita. “As of today, we don’t have anything planned.”
Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, one of seven lieutenant governor candidates at the GOP convention, has donated $1,000 to Jackson’s campaign.
“I have to give him a lot of credit,” Davis said. “He had a stealth organization while he was running for the nomination. He managed to bring a heck of a lot of people to that convention. But he’s obviously at the next level as the nominee. . . . If you’re a novice at this, the learning curve is clearly at a 90-degree angle. There’s so much to do in such a short period of time.”
Chris Jankowski, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, said the group has not had any contact with Jackson’s campaign.
“It’s pretty early for us to say how we will support particular campaigns,” said Jankowski, whose group includes the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association. “At times we work with campaigns, but not in every instance. We will figure out where resources are needed and what it’s going to take to win in November. We are actively engaged in Virginia and will work with the state party.”
A person with intimate knowledge of the campaign said top Virginia Republicans are concerned about Jackson’s campaign.
“It’s bad enough that you have to deal with the comments he’s made, but is there an ability to move not only past the comments, but focus on a different set of priorities?” said the person, who did not want to be identified because the matter is politically sensitive.
“The problem is that you have a candidate and a staff that are all learning at the same time.”