In the latest chapter of the Kafka-esque sitcom that has become Virginia's fall elections, conservative activist E.W. Jackson is now the Virginia GOP's nominee for lieutenant governor, alongside gubernatorial hopeful Ken Cuccinelli.
As we've covered before, Cuccinelli's outreach strategy relies heavily on trying to obfuscate his arch conservatism, because it is no longer 2005 and Virginia might not elect someone who's yelling about "sexual libertine behavior." As haphazard and amusing as Cuccinelli's cleanup attempts have been – this may be the wrong time to appeal a ruling against sodomy laws, Ken — Jackson's presence on the ticket threatens to derail them completely.
Jackson, a Chesapeake-based minister, got his start in Boston speaking like the Cuccinelli of yesteryear against AIDS prevention education, and says things like, "If we need a gay rights bill, then we need an adulterers' rights bill, we need a cohabitators' rights bill, a pedophiles' rights bill, and a sadomasochists' rights bill." In one of his rare moments of restraint, Jackson carefully explained how President Obama has a "Muslim sensibility." He knows — and who doesn't — that outright calling Obama a Muslim can make you appear crazy.
The third part of the GOP ticket is Harrisonburg's state Sen. Mark Obenshain, the party's nominee for attorney general, who once introduced a bill that would legally penalize women for not promptly reporting miscarriages. I don't think he'll be as much of a liability considering Cuccinelli won his current office, which of course means that Virginians don't care as much whether or not their attorney general is nuts.
Cuccinelli, in another moment of vague self-awareness, tried to distance himself from some of Jackson's statements, telling The Virginian-Pilot, "We are not defending any of our running mates' statements now or in the future" and that voters "need to get comfortable with each candidate individually."
Comforting as Cooch's words may be, here's the thing: Many of the scariest things Jackson is open about believing are things that Cuccinelli also has said, albeit in slightly more diplomatic terms. Besides the whole sodomy-laws thing, Cuccinelli once said that the "homosexual agenda" brings "nothing but self-destruction, not only physically but of their soul." Unlike Jackson, who's never held elected office, Cuccinelli has proven himself willing to act on his hostilities. He's issued letters directing public colleges to not not discriminate against gays. He's charged after climatologists. He was the first attorney general in the United States to challenge Obamacare in court.
In the state Senate, he refused to support a bill that would give private companies the option to voluntarily provide benefits to employees' domestic partners at the behest of then-Delegate Bob McDonnell, who would also like you to believe that the majority of his political opinions never existed. Both Jackson and Cuccinelli are fond of the canard that abortion providers target minority neighborhoods out of a desire to "exterminate" black people, which is kind of a weird conspiracy theory because it requires black people to be complicit in this plot. Of the two, only Cuccinelli, however, has actively used his office to force abortion providers to adhere to random, needless regulations.
Even Jackson appears vaguely aware of the increased scrutiny. His Twitter account, with which he once said that the concept of LGBT Pride Month "makes me feel ikky all over," has been dormant since November, and he now posts at Jackson4VA (his final tweet reads, tragi-comically, "Anybody out there in twitter land?"). The tweets from the new account are boilerplate campaign fodder.
The Cuccinelli campaign really doesn't need any of this right now. Oblivious, regressive statements on social issues were the death knell for a host of Republican candidates in 2012, and last year, the Virginia GOP specifically learned the hard way that there were public relations consequences for going full Pat Robertson. But Cuccinelli's scramble is very reminiscent of statements made earlier this year by Louisiana's Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, who said that the party's chances of success depended upon them not being seen as "the stupid party." Jindal, who supports the teaching of creationism in public schools, wasn't talking about any kind of moderation in policy, he was simply urging his party to do a better job of messaging and make fewer Todd Akin-esque gaffes.
But as the ideological similarities between Cuccinelli and Jackson indicate, that's not really a solution. If speaking candidly about your social and political positions torpedoes your chances of getting elected, then you have a far bigger problem than simply mismanaging the message. You have the wrong messengers. S
Zack Budryk is a freelance writer in Woodbridge.
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