When Virginia Republicans decided to pick their 2013 statewide candidates via a convention instead of a primary election, they lit the fuse on a political bomb. In today’s Republican party, by placing their ticket in the hands of their most committed activists — the ones who’d drive to Richmond for a weekend of politicking — they might as well have ensured the nomination of someone who says things like this:
“It is time to end the slavish devotion to the Democrat[ic] Party,” Jackson, who is African American, said in a 2012 YouTube video. “Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was. And the Democrat[ic] Party and their black civil rights allies are partners in this genocide.”
Yes, that’s new Republican Lieutenant Governor nominee E.W. Jackson, who’s never won office before but sure knew how to throw raw meat to the conservative lions in the hall. Turns out he’s big on the three-fifths clause in the Constitution but isn’t so fond of gays or of President Obama’s “Muslim perspective.” Good fun all around!
His nomination is one of the few things that might have fired up Virginia Democrats unenthusiastic about their own apparent “choice,” Terry McAuliffe, to run to against Ken Cuccinelli for governor (for a rundown of why Dems aren’t so excited about McAuliffe, see Jonathan Chait’s “McAuliffe-Cuccinelli Not Quite the Grimmest Rooting Choice in History“). With Jackson on the ticket, Dems have a living/breathing straw man to run against, and the state’s Republican establishment can’t exactly kick him off without 1) really pissing off Tea Partiers, and 2) opening up the can of worms involved in removing the first black Republican nominee for statewide office in 25 years. Good fun, indeed!
It may turn out that Jackson is so extreme that McAuliffe’s campaign (disclosure: my friend Alex Kellner is McAuliffe’s digital director, but we don’t talk about the campaign) can use him in ALL of their advertising, but he’s also a perfect target for the kind of segmented communications at which the internet excels. For a start, of course you’d run Google search ads using his name as a keyword, but you could direct people to more-specific information (video of him crazy-talking, for instance) using “E.W. Jackson Virginia gay” or “Jackson Virginia Republican KKK” as key phrases. Going offline, don’t forget local radio, where stations can often put messages in the right ears cost-effectively.
Another trick: the campaign (or an outside group) could buy search ads (or targeted content ads) on the Jackson-gay axis that point to an OUTSIDE validator, for instance that Buzzfeed article listing his anti-gay quotes — the campaign would lose the chance to build its list by linking to a third-party site, but doing so can make the message seem more credible.
Facebook ads targeted demographically, geographically or by interest would also seem to be a natural fit, as might cookie- or interest-targeted content ads (let’s bring up that three-fifths clause thingie on sites popular with black Virginians, shall we?). Facebook would also lend itself to visual content, which currently has a leg up on text and video when it comes to viral spread (imagine some of Jackson’s finer quotes turned into clever graphics and promoted via social media, email and blogger outreach).
Of course, it’s impossible to know yet whether Jackson’s potential ability to turn out conservative activists will outweigh the likelihood that he’ll force the other side to the polls out of sheer terror, but Virginia Dems MUST be felling better about their November prospects now than they were a couple of weeks ago. Now it’s time to capitalize on their new opponent’s biggest possible mistake: saying what he really thinks.