Roy Moore’s defeat in ruby-red Alabama may spell trouble for Virginia Republican Senate hopefuls Corey Stewart and E.W. Jackson, both of whom, like Moore, have pursued platforms far from the party’s establishment wing.
Both Virginia hopefuls entered the Republican primary campaigning to the right of fellow GOP candidates: Stewart as a self-professed mini Donald Trump who has voiced support for Confederate statues and Jackson a firebrand preacher who has called gay people ill.
After the results were tallied in Alabama — first-time candidate Doug Jones bested Moore by more than 20,000 votes — Stewart, who had stumped for Moore, sounded off against GOP leaders who he said “colluded” with Republicans to undermine the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
Jackson, an African American minister, tweeted: “The black vote did not turn out against Roy Moore because of the sex scandal, but because of alleged racially insensitive remarks & perceived disdain for black voters.”
But experts say such attention-grabbing statements don’t represent a version of the Republican Party that can topple Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) next year.
They cite Ed Gillespie’s June primary win over Stewart for the gubernatorial nomination and the way Virginia voters repudiated President Trump by handing the governor’s office to Democrat Ralph Northam by a 9-point margin.
“Extremist messaging is problematic in Virginia, but it’s even problematic in Alabama,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. Of Virginia, he said: “An evangelical message or a nativist-focused message might get you a nomination, but it’ll be toxic in a general election.”
The Virginia GOP’s craving for a not-so-extreme candidate could be why Del. Nick Freitas (Culpeper), an Army veteran and tea party-style conservative, is picking up early buzz as an alternative to Stewart.
An hour after the results in Alabama came in, Freitas chose to post on Facebook about a youth counseling program and not the election. He did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday.
The results in Alabama, as well as the outcome of the most recent Virginia election, may prove to be a moderating factor.
Jackson is beginning to rebrand himself as tolerant.
In a 2012 interview with the group Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, which has been called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Jackson called gay people “perverted” and “very sick people psychologically and mentally and emotionally.” Later in the same interview he called homosexuality a “horrible sin” that “poisons culture” and “destroys families.”
However, on Tuesday, Jackson told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he should not have taken that tone.
“I regret using any words that hurt people or that make people think I hate them, or that make people think I look down on them,” he said.
Like Stewart, Jackson said he still opposes same-sex marriage but won’t be openly hostile to gay and transgender people, whom he said he would “physically fight for” if he saw them being bullied.
“We may be in this alternative universe between now and the June primary where E.W. Jackson is a moderate candidate in the field of Republicans running to take on Tim Kaine,” said Quentin Kidd, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University.
Yet, earlier this week Jackson suggested Stewart had “some dealings” with the Muslim Brotherhood — a jab Stewart labeled vintage Jackson.
“He’s a crackpot,” Stewart said in a phone interview Wednesday from Alabama. “He’s getting even crazier.”
Stewart said Democrats would not let Jackson off the hook despite his attempts to moderate his comments on gay and transgender people — and neither would he.
Stewart shows no signs of backing off his self-described anti-politically correct soapbox.
In a minute-long video on Facebook shortly after the results came in, Stewart promised to never surrender to the “Republican establishment,” which “colluded together with the Democrats to undermine Judge Moore” and will follow suit in his race next year.
“It’s the classic David and Goliath scenario,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “I’ve got a slingshot, I’m just looking for the right stone.”