State Sen. Ralph Northam, an understated child neurologist from Norfolk, easily defeated his Republican rival E.W. Jackson on Tuesday in a race for lieutenant governor that focused largely on the obscure Chesapeake preacher’s penchant for incendiary rhetoric.
In the campaign’s final hours, Jackson urged supporters to take another look at the convention speech that catapulted him onto the Republican ticket.
“On 5/18 you rocked the world by making me your nominee for LG,” Jackson tweeted. “Today we finish the job! Rewatch the speech” — and then go vote.
But Jackson, the sharp-tongued, Obama-bashing minister who captured the imagination of Virginia conservatives in May, was unable to find a broader audience.
At the Democrats’ party in Tysons Corner, Northam said the night’s results showed that Virginians want “pragmatic” leaders. And he said the commonwealth’s women had spoken loudest of all.
“No group of legislators, most of whom are men, should be telling women what they should or shouldn’t do,” Northam said to loud cheers.
Jackson promised in May that “we will win the hearts and minds of our people and we will save this commonwealth and save this country.” Instead, he struggled to raise — and manage — campaign funds; faced questions about his descriptions of childhood deprivation; and was generally left in a defensive crouch, trying unsuccessfully to parry criticisms of his numerous controversial pronouncements on gays, non-Christians and others.
By the campaign’s end, Jackson was denying making statements he had been recorded making, including his contention that gay people’s “minds are perverted. They are frankly very sick people psychologically.” He also claimed to be a victim of “anti-Christian religious bigotry.”
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, the Republican that Jackson hoped to replace in Richmond, said he was disappointed to see his party lose the position he’s held for eight years. But he was not surprised.
“Bishop Jackson was a very flawed candidate from the beginning of the race,” Bolling said. “Everybody’s entitled to their views. But they’re not entitled to offend people. Regardless of how you feel about homosexuals, when you run around saying gays and homosexuals are sick and perverted, it’s tough to then present yourself as a mainstream kind of candidate.”
The consequences are significant, given the evenly split Virginia Senate and the lieutenant governor’s role breaking tie votes, Bolling added. “Having a Democratic lieutenant governor means you have an effective Democratic majority in the Senate, as opposed to the effective Republican majority we’ve had.”
Bolling blamed his party for holding a nominating convention, which he said boosts ideological candidates who are much less likely to win given Virginia’s diverse electorate. He ended his own candidacy for governor when party leaders went with the convention, which he did not think he could win. “To win elections in Virginia, you have to nominate more mainstream candidates,” he said.
That sentiment was echoed by Thomas M. Davis III, former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “As Republicans, we tend to talk to the base and talk to ourselves. And that’s just not enough in a purple state,” he said.
Former Democratic lieutenant governor Don Beyer said Northam will mesh his doctor’s background, Eastern Shore roots and legislative experience to be a highly effective No. 2 in Richmond. Jackson kept much of the spotlight, Beyer said.
“When you get a candidate that is so patently out of the mainstream as Bishop Jackson, it’s hard for him not to be the center of attention,” Beyer said. “To a certain extent, Ralph Northam gets cheated from a competitive, head-to-head contest. But I don’t think he minds.”
A defiant Jackson struck out at critics Tuesday night, saying he was treated unfairly in the campaign. “I stand before you unbroken, unbound and unwilling to quit,” Jackson said, adding that he will never turn America over “to the likes of those who don’t love this nation.”
Throughout the campaign, the candidates sparred over ideology and policy.
Northam criticized Jackson for his comments on gays and for saying in a sermon at a Northern Virginia church that non-Christians are “engaged in some sort of false religion.”
At an October debate in Norfolk, Jackson said he shouldn’t be attacked for exercising his religious rights and pleaded for political unity.
But the next day, Jackson told a group of Christian students that President Obama wants to talk to Iran “because he has a special connection to these folks that will eventually be recognized.” He also questioned Obama’s ability “to articulate Arabic phrases with perfect elocution and intonation” in a Cairo speech.
Policy differences were stark, including on abortion.
Jackson has called abortion a “genocide” for black babies. In one of his most pointed and controversial statements, he said “Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was.”
Northam is an abortion-rights supporter and was a key opponent of a 2012 GOP bill that would have required women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before some abortions. The proposal was dropped following an outcry.