RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Democrats sought on Monday to frame Virginia's bellwether races for governor and other statewide offices as a referendum on a conservative GOP ticket with particular attention to past comments by GOP lieutenant governor nominee E.W. Jackson likening Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan.
At the top of the ticket, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the party's nominee for governor, disassociated his campaign from Jackson's remarks.
Cuccinelli, Jackson and attorney general nominee Mark Obenshain were in the midst of a three-day tour of Virginia cities Monday, sharply contrasting themselves and a Democratic slate to be led by Terry McAuliffe, the former head of an electric-car company with ties to China that opened a factory in Mississippi last year rather than Virginia.
In a telephone conference call with reporters Monday morning, two Republican former legislators lamented a hyperconservative slate selected at the statewide GOP convention in Richmond Saturday.
"You're turning off not only a vast majority of all Virginians but a significant portion of the Republican base," said former Del. Vincent F. Callahan, a Republican from McLean who served in the House of Delegates for 40 years and chaired the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee.
During 50 years in which he helped grow the once-insignificant Republican Party in Virginia into one that now controls the legislative and executive branches of Virginia government, Callahan said, "we operated under the slogan of the national Republican Party, the 'big-tent theory,' because we had a big tent that could accommodate everybody."
"It appears now the Virginia Republican Party has abandoned that and they're advocating a pup tent philosophy, which I find appalling," he said.
No sooner had Jackson stunned longtime Republican insider and businessman Pete Snyder by winning a fourth-ballot victory late Saturday, Democrats and progressive groups pounced, mining YouTube and other online resources for incendiary comments from the outspoken pastor and emailing them to journalists. "Meet the GOP Extreme Team," began one email blast from the Democratic Party of Virginia.
In a YouTube video that had been viewed nearly 1 million times by Monday evening, Jackson — who is black — condemns Planned Parenthood for providing abortions to black women, claiming that the healthcare and reproductive services provider, "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."
In another video, he tells former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Victoria Jackson in her online talk show that "the idea that President Barack Obama is a Christian is laughable." He said Obama is "at best a confused man (and) is at worst has the sensibilities — and I don't know how this combination works — of an atheist and a Muslim."
"We're really dealing with an evil presence, I really believe that," he says in the interview.
After a stop in Abingdon, Jackson said his statement about the Klan was based on an assumption that most of 50 million abortions he claims were done in the United States were performed by Planned Parenthood, and of those, he presumes about one-third were for black women. "...(T)hat's a matter of great concern to members of the black community. Think of what it's done to the black population. It's not a healthy situation."
"I am pro-life. We're not trying to run away from that or hide that," he said in an interview.
At his stop near the Tennessee border, supporters such as Linda Kifer from Glade Spring said they were unconcerned about Jackson's remarks.
"I'm very excited about the team that we have put together," said Kifer, who was rooting for Jackson to win the nomination. "He is so competent, and he is so straightforward with his beliefs."
Abortion-rights and gay-rights advocates also attacked Obenshain over a 2009 bill he sponsored in the state Senate that would have subjected women to a misdemeanor and possible jail time for failing to report miscarriages that occur outside the presence of medical professionals to law-enforcement. Obenshain withdrew his bill before it reached a committee vote.
Cuccinelli, who forced tighter restrictions on abortion clinics as attorney general, distanced himself from Jackson's video comments.
"We are not going to be defending our running mates' statements, now or in the future. The people of Virginia need to get comfortable with each candidate individually, and that's what this process is all about," Cuccinelli said after the ticket's Abingdon event.
In his introductory fly-around with the GOP ticket, he stuck to his role as attorney general of challenging sweeping federal initiatives, particularly his unsuccessful 2010 court challenge to Obama's health reform law.
In a conference call with Virginia reporters, Republican State Leadership Committee president Chris Jankowski said he had watched some of the online footage himself on Sunday and was not surprised that Democrats were exploiting some of Jackson's comments.
"Obviously the Democrats are pushing all sorts of things out," Jankowski said. He said that's because they're eager to distance themselves from fresh scandals under Obama's watch such as the IRS targeting of tea party groups seeking tax-exempt status, and questions about job creation and production goals McAuliffe pledged as chairman of GreenTech Automotive.
He said McAuliffe "is quickly developing sort of a carnival barker nature to his campaign."
Contributing writer Debra McCown reported from Abingdon, Va.
Jackson's comment about Planned Parenthood: http://youtu.be/Oi_KaZ53eDg
Jackson's comment about Obama's religion: http://youtu.be/l7SU0Vbfdto
Obenshain's 2009 miscarriage-reporting bill: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?091+sum+SB962