E.W. Jackson, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Virginia, is a running mate without a visible partner.
Two months ago, he had electrified the Virginia Republican nominating convention. “Everybody else had all these big expensive videos but Jackson just got up and gave a plain old speech,” says Tom Davis, a former Republican Virginia congressman. “He is a gifted orator,” he added. One of Jackson’s best-received lines was a statement on race to a mostly white-crowd. “I am proud to say that I am not an African-American. I am an American,” Jackson said to a roar.
Two months later, the public cheers have mostly faded away. Ken Cuccinelli, the GOP candidate for governor, has largely avoided public appearances with Jackson, and rarely discusses him on the record. “Just as in 2009, Ken Cuccinelli is running his own campaign, traveling across the Commonwealth and talking to people about the issues most important to them,” says Anna Nix, spokeswoman for the Cuccinelli campaign.
Meanwhile, the Democratic ticket, including Terry McAuliffe for governor, Norfolk state senator Ralph Northam for lieutenant governor and Loudoun state senator Mark Herring for attorney general, has been running as a single package. “All three candidates appear together regularly,” says Josh Schwerin, McAuliffe’s press secretary. “We’re running a strong coordinated campaign with three mainstream Democratic candidates running against a unified Tea Party ticket. That includes sharing offices and volunteers and making joint event appearances.”
The reason for the Republican disunity can be traced to the litany of controversial statements Jackson has made that could hurt Cuccinelli’s efforts to court moderate voters. “I assume [Jackson] is probably not congruent with [Cuccinelli's] plans to move to the center,” said Davis, who supports both candidates.
“Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was,” Jackson said last year. He has also described a “direct connection” between homosexuality and pedophilia, saying both are a “matter of sexual freedom.” On Twitter Jackson called President Obama “Anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, pro-Islam, anti-capitalist.”
The result is a campaign where the two Republican candidates are keeping their distance. “Jackson received a very blunt private message from the Cuccinelli campaign: Keep up the controversies and you’ll be rebuked publicly by the leader of your ticket,” says Larry Sabato, the director for the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Jackson can be useful to the GOP in certain places, like evangelical churches, but on the whole, the less he’s seen, the better.”
When asked to remark upon some of Jackson’s controversial statements, Cuccinelli’s campaign declined to take a position. “I am just not going to defend my running mates’ statements at every turn,” Cuccinelli told the Washington Post after the convention.
The Cuccinelli campaign would not comment on when the running mates are planned to appear in public next. Requests to talk to Jackson by TIME went unanswered, and a campaign spokesperson declined to disclose Jackson’s next planned event with Cuccinelli. But Cuccinelli and Jackson have occasionally crossed paths, taking to Virginia Beach in early July for Filipino-American Friendship Day. Cuccinelli’s campaign posted photos of the event to his Facebook page, although none with Jackson.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s opponent in the lieutenant governor race, Democratic state Sen. Ralph Northam, has been boasting of his closeness to McAuliffe. “The last time I was with him was Saturday night in Northern Virginia,” he told TIME. “I would say in the ballpark of three or four times a week we’ll be at the same venue.” Northam has raised over $830,000 in his campaign, more than twice as much as Jackson, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
At times during the campaign, Jackson has portrayed himself as an ideological twin to Cuccinelli. “I’ve heard that this ticket is probably more homogeneous than almost any ticket in the history of Virginia, so there’s no stark disagreement between us,” Jackson said in a radio interview with WMAL. Cuccinelli would later separate himself from Jackson, saying he doesn’t know much about Jackson’s positions, especially compared to attorney general candidate Mark Obenshain, who Cuccinelli worked with for six years in the state senate.
Part of the tension arises from the way Jackson was picked for the Republican ticket. Jackson won on the fourth ballot after nearly ten hours of debate at a closed GOP convention in Richmond. Davis says that of the more than 8,000 people that attended the convention for the first ballot, by the fourth that number had dropped to around 4,500. When Jackson ran for Senate in 2012 in an open primary, he garnered less than 5% of the vote. “When you get to conventions, this is what you get,” says Davis. “You’re not going to get a representative sample of Virginia Republicans.”