RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia Democrats continued focusing their fire in November's bellwether statewide elections not at the top of the Republican ticket but in the middle, at the outspoken conservative black minister nominated by GOP delegates for lieutenant governor.
Four elected African-American Democratic leaders, in a conference call with reporters, expressed dismay and outrage at comments by E.W. Jackson of Chesapeake in which he compares Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan, likens the Democratic Party to a latter-day slaveholder and suggests the first black president, Barack Obama, is an atheist or a Muslim.
"E.W. Jackson's repeated use of religion and the centuries-old struggle of African-American people to support an extreme agenda, that's going to set Virginians of every color and creed back for many many years," said Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, a Democrat and pastor of a Richmond church.
"Let's make one thing clear right now: nothing is like slavery," Jones said.
Bill Euille, Alexandria's African-American mayor, said he was disheartened that in 2013 anyone would even be discussing rhetoric like Jackson's in a statewide campaign.
"Republicans have nominated a candidate in E.W. Jackson who views religion not as a unifying force for good but as a brickbat to attack people who have a different political point of view," Euille said.
Jackson is the only member of the GOP triumvirate without a record in public office. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the gubernatorial nominee, and state Sen. Mark Obenshain of Winchester, the nominee for attorney general, both have legislative and administrative records of supporting restrictions on abortion rights. But hefty Jackson's online video portfolio of strongly anti-abortion comments has eclipsed both of his ticket-mates and moved him squarely into the crosshairs of Virginia Democrats as well as advocates for reproductive rights and gay rights organizations.
In the video that has produced the most criticism, Jackson stands in front of a camera and appeals to black people to abandon the Democratic Party. In it, he says black Americans have made themselves slaves to liberal ideology and the Democratic Party. He also condemns Planned Parenthood for providing abortions to black women, claiming that the women's health care 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."
Jackson spokesman Greg Aldridge said Wednesday evening that Jackson had not heard the comments made on the Democratic leaders' conference call and did not have an immediate response.
In a separate Associated Press interview, former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat and the nation's first elected black governor, said he doubts that Jackson "can ignite much response in the African-American community, but the Democrats have yet to show anyone what they're going to do."
It's not just Jackson's positions on moral issues, Wilder said, but the bare-knuckled way he articulates them with the passion and the cadence of a preacher.
"He has appeal to certain elements in the tea party and with the influence it had at the Republican Convention (Saturday), that boded very well for Jackson. But even after he had secured the nomination, some of the remarks he made were, well ... why? Why would you want to rub the faces of certain elements in the community in the mud?" Wilder said.
Winsone E. Sears, a Winchester businesswoman and evangelical speaker who 12 years ago became the first black Republican woman elected to Virginia's House of Delegates, said many black Christians share some of Jackson's beliefs, but don't express themselves as stridently.
"Do we just leave our values behind after we get out of church or do we take them into the public arena," she said in an interview. "At the end of the day, if the truth is the truth, you can't get away from it. Now, there are artful ways to say things, and I may have said them differently. I am not into calling the president names."
The Rev. Joseph Ellison, a Republican activist and pastor of an African-American Richmond church, said Jackson has to stand his ground.
"E.W. is consistent and black churches are going to stand with E.W. all the way," Ellison said in an AP interview. "I am going to stand with him and we are going to build a firewall with him and you're going to see the most aggressive effort you've ever seen to take his message into the inner cities."