Following their stunning move to nominate black clergyman and conservative firebrand E.W. Jackson for lieutenant governor, Virginia Republicans are asking whether he can help their statewide ticket win this fall.
As pundits widely described Jackson's nomination at the Republican State Convention in Richmond as "history-making" and "electrifying," GOP leaders were left to ponder whether the second African-American Republican nominee for statewide office in Virginia history would help his ticketmate, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, in his bid for governor.
In choosing from among seven candidates for nomination as lieutenant governor, the 8,000-plus delegates picked the 61-year-old Jackson, the great-grandson of slaves, who has never held elective office and managed about 5 percent of the primary vote in the 2012 race for U.S. Senate.
The Chesapeake minister's win was even more impressive in that he overcame five opponents who had long been in elective office, as well as wealthy high-tech executive Pete Snyder, the last opponent standing before Jackson won a majority of delegates.
Jackson spent less money than any other candidate and, according to several sources, relied more on local tea party groups and other conservative organizations throughout the state than a personal campaign organization.
Jackson's unabashed pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-Second Amendment views underscore the right-leaning nature of the Republican Party in Virginia, which last fall gave its electoral votes to Barack Obama and elected a Democratic U.S. senator.
When Newsmax asked him a few weeks before the convention about concerns that his campaign was disorganized and unfocused, Jackson pointed to his own life story and shot back, "You don't serve in the U.S. Marine Corps, get a degree from Harvard Law School, start a church and a nonprofit foundation if you are disorganized and unfocused."
By nearly all accounts, Jackson's powerful address to the convention before Saturday’s balloting left delegates spellbound. Delivered in his signature pulpit style, Jackson's speech underscored conservative themes and set off the loudest demonstration.
As former Prince William County Supervisor John Stirrup, a floor leader for one of Jackson's opponents, told Newsmax soon after the first ballot: "E.W.'s had everyone fired up." Jackson gained votes on each successive ballot until securing a majority and nomination on the fourth.
"We have a geographically balanced ticket," Fairfax County delegate Al Cobb told Newsmax Sunday morning, noting that Cuccinelli, Jackson, and attorney general nominee Mark Obenshain are from different parts of the state, "not to mention that we didn't pick three white guys for our ticket."
Virginia was the first state to elect an African-American governor when Democrat Doug Wilder won in 1989 by less than one-half a percentage point over Republican Marshall Coleman.
Republicans have been nominating blacks for major offices across the country for more than a half-century, but their candidates have had mixed results in general elections.
In 1962, Connecticut Republicans nominated Hartford attorney William Graham for state treasurer, making him the first black nominated for statewide office anywhere since Reconstruction. Fearing a loss among a major constituency, a panicked Democratic state convention subsequently named black Waterbury banker Gerald Lamb, who won easily in November.
That same year, Republican Ed Brooke was elected attorney general of Massachusetts and went on to become the first black senator in a century.
Since 1986, black Republicans have run unsuccessfully for governor in states such as Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
However, black Republicans have managed to secure election to other statewide offices. In the last decade, Colorado, Florida, and Maryland are among the states electing African-American Republican lieutenant governors.
Virginia’s governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately, but some GOP strategists have pointed to a recent Washington Post poll showing Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe winning among nonwhite voters by 57-to-21 percent — far below the 83-to-16 advantage Obama had among the same group in November and the 73 percent the Democratic nominee for governor scored with nonwhite voters in 2009.
Many Republicans see in these figures an opportunity not only for Jackson to win, but perhaps for him to help Cuccinelli as well.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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