Until Saturday night, I had never heard of E.W. Jackson, a Harvard Law School graduate and minister who served three years in the Marine Corps and attended Harvard Divinity School.
I’ve never met the man, but I already know that Republicans in the commonwealth of Virginia have a problem with their new nominee for lieutenant governor.
The combination of material on Jackson’s own website and the videos of Jackson speaking for himself suggest that Republicans have nominated a no-holds-barred social conservative who seems destined to utter the sort of controversial comments reminiscent of former Missouri Republican Rep. Todd Akin.
Nominating conventions are inherently dangerous for political parties. The activists who show up invariably are more ideological than most in their party, and they seem to care little about nominating candidates with broad appeal or proven electability. (The Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party had this problem for years, which is why the winner at the state convention often lost in the primary.)
As I have noted in recent columns and posts, many Republicans believe their party has been too compromising and needs nominees who are more conservative. Jackson would appear to fill that bill. He is an admirer of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck (both of whom have endorsed him, according to his website), and religious themes are an important part of his agenda.
His bio includes the following: “On July 4, 2009, he launched S.T.A.N.D. — Staying True to America’s National Destiny (www.standamerica.us), a national organization dedicated to restoring America’s founding values which were informed by the principles found within the Jewish and Christian faiths.”
And this: “Among his current accomplishments, Jackson chairs the historic Conservative Emergency Task Force (CETF), which held a Summit in Washington DC on March 15, 2011 bringing together Congressional Representatives — including Michele Bachman, Allen West and Senator Rand Paul, Tea Party leaders and social, economic and national security conservatives to address what Jackson calls ‘the present national emergency’.”
I don’t know whether Jackson will damage the chances of his two Republican colleagues running statewide this year. But if I were a national or Virginia-based GOP strategist, I’d be worried that Jackson plays right into Democratic efforts to paint the entire ticket, and much of the Republican Party, as too extreme.
At the very least, Republican strategists must be worried that instead of having an upbeat, honeymoon period after the convention, GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli and state Republicans are on the defensive about Jackson’s views and conservatism.
One Democratic political insider with experience in the Old Dominion argued that Jackson’s nomination is a significant short-term problem for the Republicans’ statewide ticket.
"It certainly makes it harder for Cuccinelli to move to the middle, if that is what he wants to do,” the Democrat said. “But over the long run, it probably won’t matter much. The cake is already baked on Cuccinelli. He has a record. We won’t let him move to the middle anyway.”
Conservatives certainly got what they wanted in terms of Virginia's GOP ticket, and many factors will go into the outcome of the November contests. But it’s hard to believe that establishment conservatives in the GOP feel comforted by Jackson’s nomination as they wonder what kind of appeal the ticket will have in the suburbs generally, and in Northern Virginia in particular.