E.W. Jackson debates Ralph Northam at George Mason University

ARLINGTON, Va. (WJLA) - Going into Tuesday night’s debate between Virginia Lt. Governor candidates E.W. Jackson (R) and Democratic counterpart Ralph Northam at George Mason University’s satellite campus here, the larger questions more or less were: Who exactly is Ralph Northam and is E.W. Jackson really as much of a loose cannon as his well-chronicled rhetoric suggests?

Yet no real answers were supplied.

Northam was, as he has been throughout the campaign, was soft-spoken, matter-of-fact and low key, much in the same manner he has conducted himself since arriving in the Virginia state senate in 2008. The Norfolk pediatric neurologist didn’t appear intent on scoring points.

Jackson, as he does as a non-denominational bishop in Chesapeake, was much more demonstrative, his voice rising toward the end of most of his points. Toward the end, he dusted off his well-worn line that what he says about social issues during his sermons is not how he would govern.

Northam gently replied that “making statements against the LGBT community,” whether said in church or on the floor of the senate “are offensive to me.”

The primary thrust of the debate was billed as being about the state’s fiscal future and seldom did it genuinely veer from the topic.

When it came to restrictive new laws that have forced the closure of some of Virginia’s abortion clinics, Northam lamented the “social agenda” against which he fought. Jackson countered that he’s “unabashedly pro-life,” and will do everything he can to “protect the lives of unborn children.”

When talking about mental-health issues, Jackson said some members of his extended family suffer from the disease and endorsed sending some patients to a mental institution: “We don’t want them hurting themselves or hurting others.”

Countered Northam, after expressing sympathy for Jackson’s family: “How sad that you would go visit them in an institution,” adding that there are many more alternatives than one being committed to a mental facility.

Asked about the gift scandal that has embroiled Gov. Bob McDonnell, Jackson acknowledged it as unfortunate but added that the system worked. Northam said it was “distressing and embarrassing.”

When it came to the subject of Obamacare, Northam expressed support while Jackson voiced strong opposition.

On guns, Northam called for tighter control, while Jackson stressed the need to protect the Second Amendment.

Both agreed that transportation problems in the state is an ongoing issue but differed on funding.

Moderated by WUSA reporter Peggy Fox, the debate immediately took on a slightly awkward tone when, after Northam gave his introductory comments while sitting in the supplied brown leather chair, Jackson declared that because so many people had come to watch the proceedings, he would respect them by standing – and so he did.

As histrionics go, that was the highlight of the 90-minute affair.