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In Virginia, candidates for lieutenant governor squared off in Arlington last night.
Republican E.W. Jackson and Democrat Ralph Northam disputed each other a number of times throughout the debate, most notably when it came to social issues — God, guns and gays. But when mental health came up, the debate became personal for Jackson.
"Look, I don't want to scare you but I've got some mentally ill people in my family, but they need help. They need treatment," he said.
Jackson says it was a mistake to abandon the model of institutionalizing people with mental illness, pointing to recent mass shootings as evidence. Northam took the opportunity to shoot back.
"How sad, and I'm sorry that you have people in your family that are mentally ill and how sad that you would go visit them in an institution, Mr. Jackson. We can do better than that here in the commonwealth," he said.
And it was no surprise to anybody that Jackson's controversial statements played a prominent role in the debate. The candidate has called gays sexually twisted, said that yoga allows Satanic possession and proclaimed that people who don't follow Jesus are engaged in false religion. Jackson rejected the criticism.
"We've got to watch this because, what this really amounts to is a religious test. It's the same thing they tried to do to John Kennedy, the same thing they tried to do with Mitt Romney," he said.
Not so, said Northam. "Making statements against Democrats saying that they are anti-God, that they are anti-family and that they are anti-life—they are offensive," he said.
The race this year is particularly high stakes because the state Senate is divided 20 Democrats to 20 Republicans, and the next lieutenant governor would get to cast any tie-breaking vote.