This year’s Virginia Republican ticket will be led by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli who, after Saturday’s GOP Convention, is now officially the Republican candidate for Governor.
Cuccinelli is an unabashed conservative who was one of the leading opponents of Obamacare and who has developed a reputation as a steadfast warrior for the conservative agenda.
Since Ken Cuccinelli gained the de facto nomination for Governor in January, the establishment media and the Richmond State House crowd has done its best to push Cuccinelli to follow the usual establishment Republican path of “moving to the center” and running away from the conservative agenda.
This debate about the future direction of the campaign and the Virginia Republican Party was settled when former State Senator Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, the leading establishment Republican vying for Lieutenant Governor, greeted the delegates assembled in Richmond by welcoming “fellow conservatives” to the Convention.
As one amused delegate remarked upon hearing Devolites Davis, “Jeannemarie was probably the only person in the room who isn’t a conservative.”
Despite trying to position herself as a conservative, Devolites Davis’ record of big government Republicanism caused her to be promptly eliminated in the first round of voting in the hotly contested Virginia Lt. Governor’s race.
In the past, establishment Republicans would have demanded an establishment Lt. Governor candidate and threatened to bolt if one of their own wasn’t placed on the ballot to “complement” conservative Ken Cuccinelli and “unify the Party.”
The Lt. Governor’s race ultimately turned into a four-ballot marathon that lasted nearly 10 hours, but the direction the Party would take in the campaign for the General Election was never in doubt after the first ballot.
This year, the delegates were focused on which Lt. Governor candidate would be the best messenger to support Ken Cuccinelli’s conservative campaign -- not on satisfying the demands of the Richmond State House establishment.
On the final ballot the delegates chose E.W. Jackson, a minister and attorney from Chesapeake, as the Lt. Governor candidate. Jackson is the first black Republican nominee for statewide office since Maurice Dawkins took on Sen. Charles S. Robb, D-Va. in 1988.
Jackson may have achieved some notoriety as a “black” Republican, but he is a strong critic of the kind of racial politics that characterized the 2012 Obama campaign.
As Markus Schmidt, reporting for the Richmond Times-Dispatch noted, “In a well-received speech to delegates earlier Saturday, he [Jackson] received perhaps the greatest applause of the day when he told thousands of delegates at the Coliseum: ‘I’m no African-American, I’m an American!’”
Cuccinelli and Jackson will be joined on the ticket by Attorney General Candidate Mark Obenshain, son of Richard Obenshain, whom many consider the father of the modern conservative Republican Party in Virginia.
Richard Obenshain died in a plane crash after winning the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. In his remarks to convention delegates, Mark Obenshain rallied Republicans to the conservative agenda and recalled his father’s nomination for the Senate at the 1978 state GOP convention.
Ken Cuccinelli gained the nomination for Governor in a pre-convention battle with current Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, the beneficiary of an insider deal with current Governor Bob McDonnell who tried to anoint Bolling as his successor.
Grassroots Republicans, especially those from the Tea Party who are fed-up with Richmond’s entrenched State House establishment, were having none of the corrupt bargain struck between McDonnell and Bolling.
In the end, Bolling didn’t even go to the gate and enter the Convention race against Cuccinelli – the wave of opposition to “business as usual” in Richmond was just too strong.
After the Convention, it is clear Cuccinelli has no interest in running the usual content-free establishment Republican campaign – he’s running on his record and as a conservative.
Cuccinelli and the GOP ticket will draw a stark contrast between their limited government constitutional conservative approach to government and the government-knows-best secular liberalism and opportunism of Terry McAuliffe and the Democratic ticket.
The 2013 Virginia statewide races may be the most important off-year election in decades -- not because of the personalities of the candidates or its potential as a referendum on the Obama agenda and scandals -- but because Ken Cuccinelli, E.W. Jackson and Mark Obenshain will actually run as conservatives. And we think that’s the same kind of choice voters at the national level deserve and will be looking for in 2016 as well.