Intrigue and absolutism at Virginia’s Republican convention

THE ODD DOMINION

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Intrigue and absolutism at Virginia’s Republican convention

When Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli first decided to run for governor, he realized that there was only one thing that could derail his ambition: a primary. Although he could have won a head-to-head contest with his main rival, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, putting his fate in the hands of Virginia’s voters was a risky proposition, at best. And so he pulled as many strings as he could to get his party’s State Central Committee to switch the nominating method from a primary to closed convention. This had the duel benefit of shutting out Democrats (who, under Virginia’s non-partisan primary system, could have voted in a Republican primary), and shifting the ideological center of the nominating electorate far to the right.

Well, in yet another classic case of “be careful what you wish for,” Cuccinelli’s brilliant ploy has backfired in a most spectacular fashion, leaving him saddled with a nominee for Lieutenant Governor so ideologically extreme that even partisan stalwarts are aghast (Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post’s most conservative columnist, opined “The Virginia GOP blows it,” while right-leaning blogger Justin Higgins despairingly called it the “Seppuku Convention”).

And who, pray tell, is the mystery man who has engendered such a great and furious gnashing of teeth? Why, none other than notorious gay-bashing pastor E. W. Jackson, a black Tea Party terror who has, among other things, called gays and lesbians “frankly very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally,” and claimed that Planned Parenthood, working in concert with liberals and “so-called civil rights leaders,” has been “far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was.”

The story of how Jackson came to triumph over a field of better-known, better financed candidates is a long and complex tale, but what it basically comes down to is this: In a crowded seven-person field, none of the candidates could muster a majority, creating a multi-ballot situation that soon devolved into a hilarious orgy of score-settling and dirty tricks. (The best moment of the night came when the campaign of Pete Snyder, a Fairfax County businessman, distributed flyers claiming the endorsement of rival Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. Stewart angrily denied having given such an endorsement, and, after being denied a chance to address the convention to clear up the matter, took to the floor with Jackson to demonstrate his support for the bishop.)

Of course, it didn’t help matters that Cuccinelli refused to make an endorsement in the race for LG (as he did for state Senator Mark Obenshain, the victorious AG candidate). Perhaps he was wary of offending one of the few prominent black conservatives in Virginia. Or perhaps he actually had no preference, and assumed, like most observers, that Jackson didn’t stand a chance.

But whatever his motivations, Cuccinelli is now stuck with a political novice and rhetorical bomb-thrower with a very limited base of support (when Jackson ran in a proper primary for the 2012 senate race, he came in fourth out of four, drawing a whopping 4.7 percent of the vote). And, while the Cooch immediately released a statement insisting that “we are not going to be defending our running mates’ statements, now or in the future,” he still had to go on a statewide tour with his new running mates and will, we can assure you, be linked to Jackson at every turn by opportunistic Democrats.

So buckle up, Mr. Cuccinelli—it’s going to be a very wild ride.

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