TOPICS > Politics

Clues From Virginia

November 7, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


JERRY KILGORE: Thank you so much for being here.

KWAME HOLMAN: Virginia’s former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore is running for governor, and hoping to buck a trend. In Virginia’s last seven gubernatorial elections, dating back to 1977, the candidate of the party in the White House has lost. And Jerry Kilgore is a Republican.

JERRY KILGORE: I think every election year is different, and it will be time for the party to rebound.

TIM KAINE: Thanks for being here.

KWAME HOLMAN: Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine is the Democratic candidate. And even in predominately Republican Virginia, Kaine finds himself in a dead heat with Kilgore.

TIM KAINE: The Republican nominee always starts as the Goliath in the race, as the overdog, as the favorite, always.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Republicans’ strength in Virginia is obvious. They own both U.S. Senate seats and eight of the eleven seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans have won every presidential contest here since 1968. But the race for governor traditionally has been up for grabs. In fact, most political watchers believe the popular current governor, Mark Warner, a Democrat, would win again if Virginia law permitted a second term. Instead, he’s providing a critical boost for the Kaine campaign.

GOV. MARK WARNER: Every step of the way, on every battle that we’ve fought, Tim Kaine has been there side by side helping move Virginia forward.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Jerry Kilgore always is quick to remind voters that Mark Warner no longer is part of the equation.

JERRY KILGORE: Gov. Warner is not on the ballot. I think that’s going to be the surprise of many Virginians when they go into the voting booth. The race is between Tim Kaine and me, and Tim Kaine, quite frankly, is the most liberal candidate they’ve ever nominated to run for governor.

KWAME HOLMAN: However, also working for Kaine, and against Kilgore, are President Bush’s approval ratings. They’re at all time lows, and political watchers nationwide believe the results of this race could be an early barometer of the congressional mid-term elections next year. Mark Rozell is a public policy professor at George Mason University and has been following Virginia politics for nearly 20 years.

MARK ROZELL: I do think it’s telling that in this very reliably red state, which George Bush has won twice, that the campaign is so closely competitive right now, and that may be a signal that the Bush presidency is in a weakened position, that the recent scandals and bad news have hurt Republicans across the board, not just in the White House, and that this is going to have some effect perhaps on the ’06 elections. If a Democrat were to win in Virginia, which is a heavily Republican state, I think that would say a lot.

KWAME HOLMAN: But from his vantage point at Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, Mike DuHaime doesn’t see it the same way.

MIKE DuHAIME: I caution people into reading too much into what does that mean on the national level. Congressional elections, senate elections, governors’ elections, I think these will run more about locally what the candidates are– what’s important to those states and what’s important in those congressional districts and those governors’ races.

KWAME HOLMAN: Still, Jerry Kilgore raised some eyebrows when he turned down an opportunity to appear with the president at an event in Norfolk two weeks ago, and their appearance together at a rally in Richmond tonight was a late campaign decision.

MARK ROZELL: It tells me that perhaps the Republican party folks in Virginia see that the Bush presidency is not an asset to their campaign.

KWAME HOLMAN: And Democratic Party officials hope the president’s problems will spur a heavy anti- Republican turnout on election day. The Democratic National Committee has invested money and more to make that happen. Rodney Shelton is the DNC’s deputy political director.

RODNEY SHELTON: We’re definitely excited about it. We’ve put resources in there. We’re also allowing our staff to go out and to be deployed to the campaign.

KWAME HOLMAN: While Tim Kaine is hoping to capitalize on President Bush’s troubles, he also has surprised some by embracing a theme popular with Republican candidates.

TIM KAINE: We are a faith and values party. We are a faith and values party. (Cheers and applause )

KWAME HOLMAN: A devout Roman Catholic, Kaine is hoping to avoid the fate many democrats suffered in the 2004 elections after failing to reach the so- called "values voters."

TIM KAINE: Let me say, no party’s got a monopoly on faith or virtue or vice, but as I deal with Democrats all over the commonwealth, Democrats who the other side likes to say are faithless, valueless, Hollywood secularists. Democrats understand this basic principle, that we’ve got to measure ourselves by what we can do with each other, for each other, to advance the community as a whole.

KWAME HOLMAN: George Mason’s Mark Rozell.

MARK ROZELL: I think it’s an interesting test case of whether a Democrat can be so overtly expressive about his religiosity and the importance of his faith to his politics, and do as well as many Republicans have in trying to play the faith factor in campaigns. Is this going to protect Tim Kaine somewhat from critics who say the Democratic Party doesn’t do enough to talk about the values agenda and the things that a lot of deeply faithful citizens really care about? Well, he’s put that out there up front in this campaign.

KWAME HOLMAN: Kaine’s faith became an issue when the question of capital punishment came up. He cited his religion as his reason for opposing the death penalty. And Jerry Kilgore jumped right on it.

JERRY KILGORE: Over 75 percent of Virginians support the death penalty as a deterrent to crime. Tim Kaine and I disagree.

KWAME HOLMAN: Kilgore showcased the issue with intensely emotional ads in which the relatives of murder victims condemned Kaine, a former private attorney, for representing the accused.

AD SPOKESMAN: Tim Kaine voluntarily represented the person who murdered my son. He stood with murderers in trying to get them off death row. No matter how heinous the crime, he doesn’t believe that death is a punishment.

KWAME HOLMAN: Kaine, noting that he spent only 40 minutes on that particular case, repeatedly has vowed to enforce the death penalty if elected, and responded with this ad.

AD SPOKESMAN: Jerry Kilgore’s attacks are a vile attempt to manipulate for political gain.

SPOKESMAN: I think it’s really an outrage that he would take advantage of this man’s grief in this way to essentially make the point that you can’t trust Kaine because he’s got a religious belief about the death penalty.

KWAME HOLMAN: Several of Virginia’s larger newspapers criticized Kilgore as well, and the candidate subsequently pulled the ads off the air. Still, he defended his campaign.

JERRY KILGORE: You know, in this race where you have the most two philosophically different candidates running for governor, you’re going to have some hard hits, but truthful ones.

KWAME HOLMAN: Jerry Kilgore also criticized Tim Kaine on the volatile issue of illegal immigration, blasting the Democrat for supporting a taxpayer-financed day-laborer center.

AD SPOKESMAN: What part of ‘illegal’ does Tim Kaine not understand?

JERRY KILGORE: I oppose — I oppose using taxpayer dollars to build this site. It says to those illegally in this country that we’re going to provide benefits.

KWAME HOLMAN: Kaine said he too opposed illegal immigration, but argued during a debate with Kilgore that the decision to build the day laborer site should a local one.

TIM KAINE: Local officials are elected by their own citizens, and they should do what they think is best. So I did oppose the attorney general, Jerry Kilgore, stepping out and beating up on the local officials for trying to solve a local problem.

KWAME HOLMAN: As Tim Kaine and Jerry Kilgore made their final pitches today to a shrinking pool of uncommitted voters, political analysts prepared to dissect the results, looking for any clues they might reveal about the 2006 congressional campaigns.