I can hardly wait for the first debate in the campaign for Virginia lieutenant governor. Will Republican candidate E.W. Jackson reaffirm a past position by accusing his Democratic opponent of representing the Antichrist?
And, if so, how could the Democrat possibly respond? “I deny I speak for Satan” seems awkward. Maybe he could confess to sharing the views only of lesser demons.
Jackson, the fire-breathing African American preacher nominated in an upset at Saturday’s GOP convention, might learn before the debate to temper his rhetoric.
Certainly that’s the hope of any Republican who hopes to win in November, rather than just indulge the craving to vent hostility toward homosexuality and abortion.
But Jackson represents the GOP activists who would rather be right, in their view, than in power. His supporters at the convention praised him as the only candidate among seven with the courage to speak the truth.
Jackson has said gays have “perverted” minds and are “very sick people psychologically and mentally and emotionally.” He has described President Obama as “an evil presence” and liberal abortion policy as “infanticide.”
In an op-ed column in the Washington Times in October, he wrote that Democrats back “an agenda worthy of the Antichrist.”
Jackson’s nomination is a stroke of unearned good fortune for the Democrats, who need all the help they can get this year. It’s a major setback for Republicans on two counts.
First, the selection undercuts the key campaign strategy of GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli. He wants to distract voters from his own ultraconservative views on social issues by focusing on jobs and other bread-and-butter topics.
Jackson’s nomination immediately put Cuccinelli, who is state attorney general, on the defensive. He sought to distance himself from Jackson’s incendiary record by saying he was “just not going to defend my running mates’ statements at every turn.”
Second, Jackson’s presence on the ticket blunts the Republicans’ argument that Cuccinelli’s opponent for governor, Terry McAuliffe, lacks sufficient government experience.
McAuliffe, who was a top fundraiser and Democratic National Committee chairman under Bill Clinton, has never held elected office. The GOP loves to deride him as somebody who would have to ask directions to the washroom in the Capitol.
But Jackson, 61, a bishop of his nondenominational Christian church in Chesapeake near Norfolk, also has never held elective office.
In the past, one could argue that the Virginia lieutenant governor’s office is too weak to be relevant. It’s different this year, because the lieutenant governor breaks ties in the Senate – which is now split 20-20.
That means Jackson’s fate in the race could decide whether Republicans retain their current monopoly of power in the General Assembly. (Current Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is a Republican, and the GOP enjoys a large majority in the House of Delegates.)
The Democrats pick their candidate in a primary next month. The two candidates are state Sen. Ralph Northam (Norfolk) and former White House technology czar Aneesh Chopra.
Jackson isn’t all bad news for the Republicans. He is a Marine veteran and a Harvard law school graduate. He’s an eloquent, passionate speaker who’ll rev up a Republican base already excited about Cuccinelli’s candidacy.
Jackson’s far-out stances might even achieve the extraordinary trick of making Cuccinelli appear moderate.
Finally, Jackson brings racial diversity to the GOP ticket. He’s the first nonwhite since 1988 to be nominated to statewide office by Virginia Republicans.
Some commentators have suggested Jackson’s candidacy might attract more blacks, who typically vote Democratic, to the GOP. But in past elections, African American conservatives haven’t made large inroads with the black electorate.
Moreover, some of Jackson’s past comments about African American issues might backfire. He has criticized what he called blacks’ “slavish devotion” to Democrats. He said Planned Parenthood, which offers abortion services, has been more lethal to blacks than the Ku Klux Klan.
The latter is quite a stretch. It overlooks the fact that women who seek abortions make personal decisions to do so.
That said, the Democrats could face a difficult political climate by fall. Low-turnout, off-year elections have strongly favored the GOP in recent cycles. At the top of the ticket, McAuliffe has to overcome criticisms that he’s not a “real” Virginian, but an ambitious, national figure who’s seeking office in the commonwealth because he happens to live in McLean.
The outlandish language from the GOP’s No. 2 candidate gives the Democrats an unexpected opening to counterpunch.
For previous Robert McCartney columns, go to washingtonpost.com/mccartney.