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E.W. Jackson nomination shakes up Va. race for Cuccinelli

The GOP's nomination of E.W.

The GOP's nomination of E.W. Jackson  for lieutenant governor during Saturday’s Virginia Republican convention is about to make an already lively off-year contest in the Old Dominion even more interesting.

Current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was nominated for governor during the Republican gathering this weekend in Richmond, officially setting in motion the November showdown with Democrat Terry McAuliffe. A NBC News/Marist poll from earlier this month showed the two men locked in a close contest.

But it was the surprise nomination of Jackson, who defeated businessman Pete Snyder on the fourth ballot late into the night, that could impact the race the most. Jackson, an African-American minister gave a rousing speech earlier in the day, and saw his momentum surging throughout the day.

But as soon as Jackson won the nod, a flood of opposition research quickly emerged, from a YouTube video he posted last fall saying Planned Parenthood was worse than the KKK, calling abortion “the equivalent of an idolatrous offering to the god of ‘sexual license,’” and other statements against gay marriage.

The irony of Jackson’s nomination was that the closed convention process, which would draw more conservative activists likely to back the attorney general, was what Cuccinelli allies pushed through over an open primary in order to ensure he had the advantage over Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. And though Jackson is elected separately from Cuccinelli, Republicans are still stuck with a nominee on their ticket they didn’t anticipate and one Democrats will try to tie to the top of the ticket at every turn. While Democrats know their nominee, former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, has problems with the base too, Jackson’s nomination complicates an already fragile race.

Cuccinelli and Mark Obenshain, the GOP nominee for attorney general, are on a three day flyaround of the commonwealth, but Cuccinelli told the Washington Post he wasn't going to "defend my running mates’ statements at every turn...They’ve got to explain those themselves. Part of this process is just letting Virginia voters get comfortable with us, on an individual basis, personally.”

Cuccinelli is doing his best to turn the conversation away from social issues. Though he’s championed social causes while in office and has been outspoken against abortion, it wasn’t the main focus of his convention speech on Saturday, and his latest 60-second ad released Monday features the family of a police officer killed in the line of duty, praising Cuccinelli's help in the wake of their tragedy.

The problem in 2013 could be another one in 2014 for Republicans, though. In next year’s Senate race against Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, Republicans also voted Saturday to choose their nominee via convention again.