VIRGINIA BEACH — One day after he beat better funded, better known rivals to become the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, the Rev. E.W. Jackson started his Sunday the way he usually does: preaching to his congregation in Chesapeake.
That kept him from traveling by airplane with the rest of the Republican ticket to a Sunday afternoon rally in Virginia Beach. But Jackson caught up with Ken Cuccinelli II and Mark Obenshain by car, then flew with the gubernatorial and attorney general nominees to another rally in Fairfax County that evening.
Until now, Jackson has been a go-it-alone candidate, on a seemingly quixotic quest with little money or party support. He raised less than $141,000 for his bid for the nomination but managed, on the strength of tireless appearances around the state and a rousing convention hall speech Saturday, to best established politicians with as much as $1.1 million.
Now Jackson has secured a spot on a marquee Republican ticket with two men who know each other well — Cuccinelli and Obenshain were seat mates for six years in the Virginia Senate — but are just getting to know him. As the newly minted ticket kicked off a three-day “flyover” tour of the commonwealth, some Republican insiders were spending part of the day reading up on the surprise No. 2 nominee, “trying to find out who E.W. Jackson is,” as one party member put it.
It did not take Virginia Democrats long to come up with their answer, issuing a news release summing up controversial comments Jackson has made. He has called gays “perverted” and “sick” and compared Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan.
“Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was,” he said last year, when he ran as a long-shot candidate for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination.
Earl Walker Jackson Sr., 61, is a former Marine, a Harvard law grad and a consecrated bishop of his church, according to his campaign Web site. He was also once a Democrat.
Jackson, who lives in Chesapeake, has made many appearances on conservative talk shows and at tea party events. In 2011, Jackson entered the race for Senate, styling himself after Herman Cain, a black Republican presidential candidate. Jackson lost to former governor George Allen in the GOP primary. Allen lost in the general election to former governor Timothy M. Kaine (D).
Jackson told the crowd of about 100 who gathered in the parking lot outside Cuccinelli headquarters in Virginian Beach: “We’ve already been told the knives are coming out at us.” He added, facetiously, “I might even be more extreme than Ken.”
In an interview, Jackson stood by his views on homosexuality but said that he has never been mean-spirited about the issue.
“I think people always try to put that in the context of being hateful and it’s not,” he said. “It’s a particular worldview that every Christian for the most part who goes to church across this commonwealth shares: that marriage should be between one man and one woman. And anything else is an attempt to redefine an institution that really can’t be redefined. But I also like to let gay folks know that that same religious faith requires that you care about everybody, regardless. . . . It’s about religious principles, but never, ever about hatred or bigotry.”
Some Republicans privately expressed concern that Democrats, who will choose their ticket in a June 11 primary, will try to link the GOP ticket to Jackson. Cuccinelli in particular is known for conservative positions, but he has tried to emphasize jobs and the economy in his campaign.
Cuccinelli, who is expected to face Democrat Terry McAuliffe, declined to comment when asked about some of Jackson’s more controversial statements. He noted that he sometimes disagreed with Obenshain in the Senate, but all three share a commitment to constitutional “first principles.”
“I am just not going to defend my running mates’ statements at every turn,” he said in an interview. “They’ve got to explain those themselves. Part of this process is just letting Virginia voters get comfortable with us, on an individual basis, personally.”
Activists who gathered in Virginia Beach said they could not be more pleased with the ticket.
“Bishop [Jackson] really set the convention hall on fire,” said Tanya Arney, 37, of Virginia Beach. “He is a great energizer.”
On Sunday evening, more than 100 GOP loyalists greeted the candidates at the Fairfax County Republican Committee headquarters.
Among them was Pete Snyder, who had lost his bid for the lieutenant governor nomination to Jackson. Snyder was holding a Jackson sign overhead — a symbol, Cuccinelli told the crowd, of the kind of unity Republicans hope to maintain as the campaign gets underway.
Cuccinelli reminded the group of his roots in Fairfax and the importance of a grass-roots campaign there to win in a pep talk that made no mention of social issues or abortion.
“I’m not doing anything different today than I did yesterday or a month ago or six months ago,” Cuccinelli told reporters. “I believe all the same things that I have for a long time. But when you talk to voters about what they care about, the main issue we’ve got to address effectively is job creation.”
Democrats made it clear that they view the GOP ticket as too extreme.
“We cannot allow these fanatics to take office,” Cesar del Aguila, who heads the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, said in a statement Sunday. He said Cuccinelli and the others hew to the “extreme right” on gun control, health care, immigration and women’s rights.