Jackson said he met with Cuccinelli (R) in 2010, when the Chesapeake minister was running for the U.S. Senate. During a brief conversation at a hotel in Suffolk, Jackson said, Cuccinelli suggested that he consider a run for lieutenant governor.
“He said essentially: I think you’d make a good candidate for lieutenant governor. Have you thought about it?” said Jackson, recalling that Cuccinelli had not yet decided to run for governor. “I do remember him suggesting that if it worked out . . . he would be proud to have me as a running mate.”
Cuccinelli’s campaign acknowledged that the men met three years ago, but spokeswoman Anna Nix challenged Jackson’s recollection.
“Ken asked why the Senate and if he ever thought to run for anything else — like maybe Lieutenant Governor? E.W. may have misconstrued that as a direct ask,” Nix wrote in an e-mail.
Jackson’s recounting of the story comes two weeks after he stunned the Virginia Republican establishment at the party convention in Richmond, beating six challengers to clinch the nomination. Jackson joins Cuccinelli and Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (Harrisonburg), the nominee for attorney general, atop the GOP ticket.
Democrats and others have since focused on Jackson, calling some of his past comments on gays and abortion “extreme.” Cuccinelli, who is running against Democrat Terry McAuliffe, and Obenshain have distanced themselves from Jackson’s remarks, referring reporters to the minister when asked about his past statements.
In his first wide-ranging interview since the convention, the 61-year-old former Democrat spoke of how faith informs his politics and sought to cast his views on abortion, homosexuality and President Obama in a new light — less combative language than he has used on YouTube or Twitter.
Jackson has called homosexuality “perverse,” compared Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan, and sharply criticized Obama over same-sex marriage and foreign policy.
But the former Marine said that his remarks were not meant to be offensive and that as lieutenant governor he would strive to represent all Virginians, including homosexuals.
“They’re citizens, right? They need jobs like everybody else,” he said. “You don’t stop being a citizen because you happen not to subscribe to my view of how a person ought to conduct themselves sexually. I don’t think that has any part in people’s right to opportunity.”
Jackson, whose Democratic opponent will be chosen in a June 11 primary, said that as a candidate he would tone down his approach to explain his views without shedding his conservative principles.
“I’m aware that in order to speak to people in a different venue, I have to think about how I want to express myself. If people won’t allow me to make the transition from minister . . . to candidate for lieutenant governor . . . if I can’t overcome that, obviously, I have a problem. But I think I can,” Jackson said. “You’re speaking to people who are believers and people who aren’t believers. I’ve got to speak the language of public policy to them, not the language of theology.”
It was his message of limited government and of gun and property rights, his opposition to abortion and support for traditional marriage that not only secured Jackson’s spot on the ballot but also energized conservative Republicans in the state.
Attention over Jackson’s candidacy has heightened since the Republicans’ May 18 convention.
At an annual fundraiser for Sen. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun) in Ashburn on Friday evening, Jackson was mobbed by the crowd of 100 or so supporters — some of whom wore campaign hats and stickers bearing his name.
“Things have really gotten off to a rather raucous start, haven’t they?” he asked supporters, alluding to the attention he has gotten since the convention. Opponents “think that maybe, just maybe, they can discourage me and get me to quit. We’re not going anywhere!”
Some lamented the lack of public Republican support for Jackson to help him counter the attacks on his candidacy. Days after the convention, Cuccinelli distanced himself from the minister, saying Jackson could defend his own statements.
“Over the course of Ken’s political career, he has made statements that people have jumped on,” said James Parmelee, chairman of the Northern Virginia Republican Political Action Committee. “The situation E.W. finds himself in is not unknown to Ken. Ken should be sympathetic to that and should have his back. You don’t have to agree on everything, but in the end they’re all on the same team.”
When he’s not campaigning, Jackson is preaching at his church, Exodus Faith Ministries, which meets in a hotel conference room in Chesapeake. Jackson said that about 50 people attend the Sunday service regularly and that they often pray for Obama.
“It’s sincere prayer for his safety, for his security, for his family,” Jackson said. “We also pray for him to have a change of heart.”
Jackson said he profoundly disagrees with Obama on several issues, and he rejects the expectation that he would support the president just because he is black. Still, the historic moment is not lost on Jackson, who grew up in a segregated America.
“I have a complete understanding of that on the part of many in the black community,” Jackson said. “It’s where my Christianity conflicts with some of his viewpoints that I find myself unable to support him and unable to be on board with the celebration. I’d love to see a black president with whom I could . . . share my views so I could be right there in the forefront defending him.”
On Twitter, Jackson has called the federal health-care law “slavery-care,” questioned whether Obama’s Middle East policy is anti-Semitic and criticized the president’s support of gay marriage.
During the interview, he initially denied the “slavery-care” tweet. But when presented with a copy of it, he said that he didn’t remember writing it but that he could have.
Still, Jackson said the president and his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, are not people he would describe as “Bible-believing Christians.”
“Christianity has a basis, and the basis is information, and that information is derived from the Bible,” Jackson said. “That doesn’t mean that people can’t have differences of interpretation, but there’s got to be a fundamental belief in the truth of scripture.”
Jackson also said it is “insulting” for civil rights leaders to compare the fight for equality for homosexuals with the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when African Americans sought the right to equal access to education, public facilities and the ballot box.
“What I think has happened is that many in the civil rights movement are just an extension of the Democrat Party,” he said.
“Instead of fighting for the civil rights of black folks, they’re fighting to maintain the Democratic establishment,” Jackson said. “The suffering that black folks have endured in America . . . we don’t want people abusing others or attacking people, but you can’t equate that with the whole homosexual rights movement.”
Nobody approached by a reporter at Friday’s fundraiser said they were bothered by Jackson’s views.
“The more people you get E.W. in front of, the bigger his vote gets,” Settle said, “because they’ve met him, they’ve heard him speak. They know what’s in his heart.”