Virginia Democrats tried to shift the focus Monday away from their own embattled gubernatorial candidate to newly minted Republican lieutenant governor nominee E.W. Jackson, whose controversial remarks on abortion and gay rights have quickly landed the fiery Chesapeake minister in the national spotlight.
Mr. Jackson, a Harvard Law School graduate who is extremely well received by the tea party in Virginia, won the nomination over the weekend after an impassioned convention speech that excited many of his followers and propelled him past six other candidates.
But by Monday, Mr. Jackson, the first black candidate Republicans have chosen to run statewide since 1988, was being slammed by critics for statements he’s made in the past likening Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan and saying that gays are “very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally, and they see everything through the lens of homosexuality.”
In a video he produced last year addressed to “Christians in the black community,” Mr. Jackson said that “it is time to end the slavish devotion to the Democrat Party.”
“Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was, and the Democrat Party and their black civil rights allies are partners in this genocide,” Mr. Jackson said.
“They can keep their homosexuality private — you and I cannot hide being black,” he added about gay people.
On Monday, Democrats trotted out two former Republican lawmakers in the state, former Delegates Vincent F. Callahan Jr. and Katherine B. Waddell, to denounce Mr. Jackson and a ticket that also includes Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, who is running for governor, and state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain of Harrisonburg, who is running for attorney general.
“Having been involved with the development and building of the Republican Party here for 40 years, my problem is that the party has gone astray,” said Mr. Callahan, the longest-serving Republican member of the House of Delegates. “Traditional Republicans like myself are left out, and I think the party has been hijacked by reactionary Republicans masquerading as conservatives.”
The largely ceremonial position has taken on greater importance since the 2011 elections, when Republicans picked up two seats to make the 40-member state Senate evenly divided between the two parties. The lieutenant governor has the power to break tie votes in the upper chamber.
Richard L. Saslaw, the Democratic leader in the Senate who would stand to benefit if his party wins the lieutenant governor’s race, said Monday he’d be surprised if Mr. Jackson “makes it to November.”
“If I were to get up and say the things that this man has said to the general population at some meeting that didn’t involve party functionaries, those people would look at me like I’d either had a stroke and something had gone terribly wrong or I was just plain totally crazy,” Mr. Saslaw, of Fairfax, said on “The John Fredericks Show.”
But Mr. Cuccinelli and his ticket-mates have stressed they will be running a campaign for “all Virginians,” and that the economy and jobs, not social crusades, will be their focus.
“It is no secret that E.W. Jackson has deeply held Christian conservative beliefs,” Republican Party of Virginia spokesman Garren Shipley said in a statement to Politico. “But the race for lieutenant governor will be fought on economic ground as opposed to social policy. In the weeks and months ahead, Jackson will focus on ideas that produce more quality jobs for Virginians and make life easier for families and workers.”