WASHINGTON — An aide to Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for governor in Virginia, sent an email to supporters Monday with an over-the-top warning of what would happen if Republican Ken Cuccinelli wins this year’s gubernatorial contest.
“If we don’t fight back today, we could be left with a government in Richmond that is more concerned about limiting access to women’s health care or rolling back gay rights than creating jobs,” Emily Aden, McAuliffe’s research director, wrote in the fundraising solicitation.
It’s a familiar attack lodged by liberals as they try to make social issues a dominant topic in the race and paint Cuccinelli, the commonwealth’s attorney general and reliable social conservative, as an extremist.
But it’s been a tough argument to make recently. On the campaign trail in purple Virginia, Cuccinelli spends most of his time emphasizing his position on jobs and burdensome regulations instead of issues like abortion and gay marriage.
Democrats, however, caught a break this weekend in Richmond when the Republican convention-goers nominated E. W. Jackson, a Christian minister, for lieutenant governor. Jackson, the GOP’s first black candidate for statewide office in Old Dominion in more than 20 years, has a long history of making colorful statements on gay marriage and abortion that could alienate some of the less-conservative voters.
As Cuccinelli tries to keep the focus on the economy, Jackson’s nomination now gives Democrats — and the media — the chance to continue hammering Cuccinelli on these issues.
Though Cuccinelli didn’t endorse Jackson, the lieutenant governor nominee is traditionally referred to as Cuccinelli’s running mate. Both took off together with Mark Obenshain, the Republican nominee for attorney general, on Monday for a “Statewide Fly Around with GOP Ticket.”
After Jackson’s nomination Saturday night, Democrats released opposition research on Jackson, and the mainstream media responded eagerly.
A sampling of subsequent headlines:
Richmond Times Dispatch: “Jackson comments on gays, Planned Parenthood, KKK draw fire”
Politico: “Virginia pick compared Planned Parenthood to KKK”
U.S. News and World Report: “Virginia Lt. Gov Candidate’s Anti-Gay Comments Threaten GOP Efforts”
MSNBC: “E.W. Jackson nomination shakes up Va. race for Cuccinelli”
Among some of Jackson’s inflammatory comments: “[Homosexual’s] minds are perverted, they’re frankly very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally.”
Jackson also once said, “I wholeheartedly support the comparison of abortion with slavery.”
In her email to supporters, Aden, McAuliffe’s research director, referenced these comments, trying to tie them to the top of the ticket. “Cuccinelli, Jackson, and Obenshain are three peas in a pod,” she said. “They’ve made divisive social rhetoric a cornerstone of their careers.”
While meeting with reporters Monday in Washington about statewide races , Republican State Leadership Committee president Chris Jankowski dismissed the McAuliffe response to Jackson, saying Democrats typically “pivot” to social issues when they are losing.
“I think that this will be a negative race and they will play the social issues as much as possible,” Jankowski, who lives in Richmond, said in response to a question about the contest from The Daily Caller.
Still, when it comes to the issues the Republicans in Virginia should focus on, Jankowski said: “We have to keep it on jobs, and the role and size and scope of government.”
As one would expect, the surfacing of Jackson’s comments have given the media the chance to question Cuccinelli on the issues. On Sunday, the Republican nominee appeared to be distancing himself from his running mate, emphasizing that he is to be judged by voters on an “individual basis.”
“I am just not going to defend my running mates’ statements at every turn,” Cuccinelli told the Washington Post. “They’ve got to explain those themselves. Part of this process is just letting Virginia voters get comfortable with us, on an individual basis, personally.”