National Republicans seeking to broaden their party's appeal following the widespread defeats in the 2012 election were handed a blow over the weekend when Virginian Republicans nominated a black minister with a history of making inflammatory remarks as their lieutenant governor candidate.
E. W. Jackson, a Marine Corps veteran and Harvard Law School graduate, has compared Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan and equated homosexuality to pedophilia, among other things. Republican caucus-goers selected him to join Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli on their party ticket for the 2013 election.
"We do not need Mr. Jackson to be the standard-bearer for what it is to be a Republican in the United States," says Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, the most prominent pro-gay rights conservative political group. "No one should be equating homosexuality with pedophilia – it is anti-gay and Democrats are more than happy to demonize Republicans for such comments."
Angelo added that a recent poll showed 40 percent of Virginia Republicans support gay marriage, as well as a plurality of all voters - an indication that anti-gay views aren't wholly embraced by voters.
In a 2010 interview with Christian radio host Janet Porter, Jackson said there was a direct connection between homosexuality and pedophilia.
"[Gay people] believe that sexuality is how everybody ought to be defined. And that means sexual freedom, sexual license to do whatever you want to do," he said. "And I know their people say, well, 'It's unfair to associate homosexuality with pedophilia or some of these other perversions.' But I believe that there is a direct connection, because what they really want is absolute sexual freedom."
Jackson also issued a YouTube video ahead of last year's presidential election in an attempt to encourage black voters to support Republicans in part by calling Planned Parenthood more damaging to African Americans than the KKK.
"The Democrat Party has created an unholy alliance between certain so-called civil rights leaders and Planned Parenthood, which has killed unborn black babies by the tens of millions. Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was," he said in the video.
Cuccinelli had already received criticism from Democrats for being too conservative for the state that twice elected President Barack Obama, but the addition of Jackson will push focus onto social issues while the Cuccinelli strives to keep to pocketbook matters.
"We are not going to be defending our running mates' statements, now or in the future," he said in a campaign release. "The people of Virginia need to get comfortable with each candidate individually, and that's what this process is all about."
Virginia does have a tradition of ticket-splitting when it comes to electing governors and lieutenant governors, however, something that could help Cuccinelli's chances.
Angelo says he's willing to give Cuccinelli the benefit of the doubt when it comes to not condemning Jackson's comments, but adds it's not a winning campaign formula.
"The more Republicans try and keep their heads in the sand, the more Democrats are going to throw sand at them," he says. "In 2012, Romney tried to focus on jobs and the economy and yet was getting hammered by the left on gay issues among other things."
The campaign for Cuccinelli's Democratic rival, Terry McAuliffe, hosted a conference call Monday featuring two former Virginia Republican lawmakers criticizing the party for picking Jackson and Mark Obenshain, who was selected as the Republican candidate for Attorney General.
"Cuccinelli, Jackson and Obenshain are the most unfortunate choices for a party that used to be a big tent party focused on limited government, individual freedom and the right to privacy," said former GOP delegate Katherine Waddell. "This ticket is composed of three men who are focused exclusively on intruding into Virginians' personal lives. This extremism does not support real Republican ideals and is not supported by the majority of Virginians."
The Republican National Committee did not return a request for comment on how Jackson's nomination reflected their base-broadening effort launched earlier this year, but Angelo says he's still optimistic about the direction his party is headed.
"It shows we still have some work to do as a party, but [RNC Chairman Reince Priebus] is doing a very good job navigating a very narrow balance beam," he says. "There may be a few more places where more losses will come before they realize being vehemently anti-gay is not something that will win elections. You can talk about jobs and the economy all you want but all it takes is one incendiary comment to provide the fodder for Democrats to highlight in a campaign."