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Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's effort to focus on jobs hamstrung by party's lieutenant governor pick

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno,Republican Party,Ken Cuccinelli,Larry Sabato

The Republican Party's pick for lieutenant governor, Chesapeake Pastor E.W. Jackson, may have invigorated the party's conservative base, but it has slowed Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's effort to refocus his gubernatorial bid from divisive social issues to jobs.

In the 11 days since Jackson was picked as Cuccinelli's running mate at a chaotic state GOP convention, Democrats have drawn attention to a handful of controversial videos and comments that Jackson made on the hot-button issues that Cuccinelli has tried to move away from. On Wednesday, state Democrats and some former Republican leaders condemned Jackson for calling Planned Parenthood a racist organization that did more harm to African-Americans than the KKK.

Democrats accused Cuccinelli of invoking similar sentiments when he told the Virginia Christian Alliance in 2011 that Planned Parenthood targeted regions with large black populations.

"Anyone who would rather stoop to racially insensitive fear mongering ... is not fit to be our next governor or lieutenant governor," said Del. Charniele Herring, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party.

For his part, Cuccinelli has said he does not have to answer for Jackson, who will face the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in a head-to-head election in November. Former White House technology czar Aneesh Chopra and state Sen. Ralph Northam of Norfolk are vying for the spot beneath gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe on the Democratic ticket.

Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell recently reiterated his support for the Cuccinelli-Jackson team but cautioned Jackson to tone down his rhetoric and focus on the kitchen-table issues that catapulted McDonnell to the governor's mansion four years ago.

"You need to express these things with civility. You need to try to bring people together," McDonnell said on WTOP on Tuesday. "And I think now that the ticket is set, let's see how the bishop does to try to bring people together."

It's possible for Cuccinelli to distance himself from Jackson as the campaign moves forward. Longtime Virginia political expert Larry Sabato noted that in six of the last 11 gubernatorial elections, voters in the state split their ticket.

In 1993, Republicans elected homeschooling activist Michael Farris as the running mate to gubernatorial candidate George Allen. Allen eventually won, while Farris lost.

"The truth was, we were running our own campaign. We focused on our issues," said Boyd Marcus, the Republican strategist behind Allen's successful campaign. "There was a clear understanding in the Allen campaign that we support homeschooling, but that was not an issue we were using to run for governor on."

There's also no guarantee Democrats will take advantage of Jackson -- still virtually unknown outside of GOP circles -- Sabato said.

"There's enough on videotape to sink a battleship. That's just the truth," Sabato said of Jackson. "But you can have all the ammunition in the world. That doesn't mean you sink the ship."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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