E.W. Jackson stood on the slate steps of a 25-acre Loudoun County estate, looked out over a mostly white crowd of Republican donors and slipped into his best mocking Barack Obama voice.
“Every black man in America,” Jackson said, mimicking the president’s comments after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin, “knows what it is to walk down the street and have people clutch their pocketbooks.”
Then, Jackson added, with a preacher’s easy, well-honed delivery, “I’m thinking to myself, every time you open your mouth, I clutch my pocketbook.”
Roars of approval and long, lingering laughter came from the crowd.
The Republican candidate for lieutenant governor knows how to give his supporters the supercharged rhetoric they love. But on Tuesday he faces a tougher test in a debate in Arlington with Democratic candidate Ralph S. Northam, a state senator and child neurologist from Norfolk. It will be the first high-stakes opportunity for Jackson to present himself to a large audience in politically crucial Northern Virginia. And he’ll be doing it in front of a mixed crowd, leaving Jackson partisans and Democratic opponents wondering how his brand of politics will play.
Depending on who’s listening, Jackson’s mastery of the incendiary zinger is a sign of spiritual and ideological purity or of a divisive mean streak. He’s said that gay people’s “minds are perverted. They are frankly very sick people psychologically”; cited the “genocide” of tens of millions of aborted black babies to argue that “Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was”; and in a sermon Sunday said non-Christians are following “some sort of false religion.”
It was an anti-Obama, anti-
establishment roar from Virginia’s conservative activists at the state’s GOP convention in May that put the obscure minister from Chesapeake in the No. 2 spot on the Republican ticket.
As the campaign enters its final weeks, Republicans are wrestling with the political realities of the party’s decision to nominate a relative unknown with limited political experience but plenty of political baggage. Some fear Jackson could weigh down Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli II, himself a longtime tea party favorite whose campaign has emphasized appeals to more- moderate Republicans and independents in a purple state that voted twice for Obama.
A new Washington Post/Abt-SRBI poll finds a tight race for lieutenant governor, with likely voters split 45 percent for Northam and 42 percent for Jackson. The difference is within the poll’s five-percentage-point margin of error. The results were identical in the race for attorney general: 45 percent for Democrat Mark R. Herring and 42 percent for Republican Mark D. Obenshain.
Seven in 10 likely voters plan to vote for the same party in all three statewide contests, including governor. But in a key difference from the governor’s race, both down-ballot Republicans hold slight edges among self-described independents, helping blunt a Democratic tilt in the state since last year.
In his campaign, Jackson has proven adept at provocations and soaring policy pronouncements, but the nuts-and-bolts work of moving from pulpit to stump has sometimes presented challenges.
Jackson’s political critique on pocketbook issues — including his opposition to Obama’s health-care law and a call to slash Virginia’s corporate income tax rate to zero to boost jobs — has been muddied by a pattern of problems managing the finances of his own political campaigns.
State campaign finance law requires that campaigns disclose where they’re spending their money. But in some cases, Jackson’s campaign has not done so, according to a Washington Post analysis.
His campaign says it paid $13,000 to American Express but said only that the money was used to cover “Travel, food and lodging” and “travel expenses.” The Virginia State Board of Elections says such reporting falls short, noting that the law “requires that a committee itemize all credit card expenditures on its campaign finance report. It is not acceptable to report a single expenditure to the credit card company.”
Using the example of a candidate using a credit card to pay for a hotel room, an elections board guide says that “the report should list the name of the hotel as the payee and NOT the candidate or the credit card company.”
Jackson’s wife, Theodora, who was working as the campaign’s treasurer, also signed off on more than $50,000 in payments without providing an address for each recipient, as required by state law, documents show. Instead, the campaign’s own post office box was listed as the address in those cases.
Officials also raised questions about Jackson’s campaign finances during his run for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in 2011 and 2012. A Federal Election Commission analyst queried Theodora Jackson in June 2012 about one apparent discrepancy after campaign officials filed an amended report that said they had actually overstated the contributions they had received by $25,069.
Jackson’s communications director, Brian Marriott, said the campaign is working to provide federal officials with the information they requested and will correct previous filings on the state level. He said the campaign hired a political financial disclosure veteran, attorney John Selph, to fix earlier disclosures because “the person that was filing the reports . . . obviously was not an expert in filing campaign finance reports.”
“They were kind of in a situation where they were trying to input as much as they could, running up against the deadline without all of the specific information,” Marriott said. Selph “will be going back through areas of the filings that require specific information and will be providing the additional information that is required by law.”
Jackson spent more than $138,000 on the Senate primary and netted 12,086 votes, less than 5 percent of the total.
Jackson, who went through bankruptcy in Massachusetts before moving to Virginia, reported this year on state candidate disclosure forms that he earns less than $10,000 a year as the pastor of a small church known as The Called-Exodus Faith Ministries.
He stepped before another crowd of believers in Northern Virginia on Sunday morning, offering a sermon at a Strasburg church.
While describing a list of the “controversial” things that he believes, and that he said he must say as a Christian, he proclaimed that non-Christians “are engaged in some sort of false religion.”
“Any time you say, ‘There is no other means of salvation but through Jesus Christ, and if you don’t know him and you don’t follow him and you don’t go through him, you are engaged in some sort of false religion,’ that’s controversial. But it’s the truth,” Jackson said, according to a recording made by a Democratic tracker. “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes unto the Father but by me.’ ”
The Web site of the Restoration Fellowship Church, where Jackson spoke Sunday, includes a recording of the sermon. But a short section that included the “false religion” comment was missing from the recording.
The church’s pastor, Jay Ahlemann, said he agrees with Jackson’s interpretation. As for non-Christians, “I would expect they would be offended,” Ahlemann acknowledged. “It’s not our purpose. And [Jackson] said he did not set out to offend people. It’s his purpose to proclaim what the Bible said as a preacher. That was not a political speech. That was a Bible sermon.”
Marriott said the campaign would not comment on “what was said in a private church sermon.”
Scott Clement contributed to this report.