Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that about 13,500 delegates attended the Republican Party of Virginia convention in Richmond. About 8,000 attended. The story has been updated.
RICHMOND — Virginia Republicans shook up the outlook for the November elections Saturday, choosing Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson to run for lieutenant governor alongside their gubernatorial pick Ken Cuccinelli II and attorney general nominee Mark D. Obenshain.
Jackson became the GOP’s first African American nominee for statewide office since 1988, overcoming six other hopefuls for the No. 2 spot on the ticket after four dramatic ballots lasting nearly 10 hours. He bested several candidates with deep ties to the state party, more money and long records in elected office, appealing to the more than 8,000 delegates in the Richmond Coliseum as a grass-roots crusader for the Constitution and social conservatism.
Before the balloting, the crowd erupted as Jackson vowed to “get the government off our backs, off our property, out of our families, out of our health care and out of our way.”
Jackson never trailed, leading after the first ballot and holding on despite sustained attacks and determined horse-trading by his opponents. He was joined on stage by Cuccinelli and Obenshain after 10 p.m., projecting an image of Republican unity at the conclusion of a fractious convention.
Former state senator and delegate Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (Fairfax), the wife of former congressman Tom Davis (R), was one of two candidates eliminated on the first ballot. State Sen. Stephen H. Martin (Chesterfield) was also eliminated on the first ballot.
The second ballot eliminated Susan B. Stimpson, chairman of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors, and Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (Prince William). Corey A. Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, was ousted on the third ballot.
On the final ballot, Jackson beat Northern Virginia technology entrepreneur Pete Snyder after a chaotic interval in which Snyder allies falsely claimed that their candidate had the backing of Obenshain as well as Stewart, who ended up endorsing Jackson.
Democrats quickly assailed Jackson’s nomination. Former U.S. chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra and state Sen. Ralph S. Northam (Norfolk), the two Democrats vying for lieutenant governor, both labeled Jackson’s views “extreme.”
On Saturday, Republicans also made Cuccinelli’s nomination for governor official. In November, he will face businessman Terry McAuliffe, who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination.
In nominating Obenshain for attorney general, the party put a conservative with a storied name in the commonwealth on the November ticket.
Obenshain, a state Senator from Harrisonburg, bested state Del. Robert B. Bell (Albermarle) in a tight contest after picking up the last-minute endorsement of Cuccinelli. Obenshain won the slot 35 years after his father, Richard Obenshain, received the party’s nomination for U.S. Senate at the 1978 GOP convention. Richard Obenshain was killed in a plane crash that year.
On Saturday, Mark Obenshain tied his campaign to his father’s legacy as the architect of the modern Republican Party in Virginia, saying he was a conservative leader for a new generation. “We all have a stake in this thing called liberty,” he told the cheering crowd, and he vowed to resist federal environmental regulation, the federal health-care law and changes to anti-union right-to-work laws. “It is for all of us that I seek to stand shoulder to shoulder with you during the course of this campaign, to fight to take back our freedoms. Are you ready to fight?”
Obenshain, 50, was first elected to the state Senate in 2003, and he has championed such causes as requiring photo ID for voters, private property rights and the prevention of elder abuse. He has been in private practice as a lawyer for 26 years. If elected, he has said, he will continue to “fight federal government overreach” in the manner of Cuccinelli.
In the general election, Obenshain will face Justin Fairfax or state Sen. Mark R. Herring (Loudoun); one of them will be nominated in a June 11 Democratic primary.
About the contest for lieutenant governor, Alex Kish, 49, of Fluvanna County said he came to the convention prepared to cast his ballot for Jackson but didn’t expect his candidate to win. “I was surprised,” Kish said of the early results. “He’s articulate, I share his values, and I believe he can bring other people into the party.”
In his address to the eager convention crowd, Cuccinelli presented the race for governor as a clear choice: “[Do] we want a governor who will say anything and do anything to get elected? Or a governor with a history of fighting for Virginians with principled, conservative, straightforward leadership?”
Cuccinelli echoed frequent GOP contentions: that McAuliffe lacks a firm understanding of the commonwealth and that McAuliffe’s “only deep and abiding belief about Virginia is that he should be its governor.”
Cuccinelli portrayed his own record through a lens of compassion, drawing a line from his expressed support for the underdog to his opposition to abortion.
“Our commitment also includes fighting for the innocent who languish in prison because no one will hear their plea and caring for Virginians who struggle with mental illness,” Cuccinelli said. “It also means defending those at both ends of life — protecting the elderly from abuse as well as the unborn.”
The McAuliffe campaign denounced Cuccinelli’s speech. “In a speech designed to elicit cheers from only the tea party, Cuccinelli doubled down on that extreme agenda and reminded Virginians of his efforts to drive mainstream Republicans out of the party,” McAuliffe spokesman Brennan Bilberry said.
Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.