RICHMOND, Jan. 17 -- Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) has decided to resign effective Feb. 1 to campaign full time for governor and will inform his staff of his decision Tuesday, Republican sources close to the campaign said Monday night.
Kilgore's resignation during the 2005 General Assembly session would clear the way for the Republican-controlled legislature to appoint his replacement. Senior Republican lawmakers and other GOP sources said Kilgore deputy Judith W. Jagdmann, who heads the civil division, is the leading candidate.
Kilgore begins the year with $3.3 million for his campaign.
"She certainly would be my choice," said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), who declined to comment on Kilgore's decision. "She's widely respected by members of the General Assembly."
Kilgore, whose decision was first reported Monday night by the Associated Press, is following in the footsteps of past candidates for governor who resigned the full-time job as the state's top lawyer. Former governor James S. Gilmore III (R) did so in 1997, as did then-Attorney General Mark L. Earley (R) in 2001. But Earley and Gilmore resigned in June, after winning their nominations.
If Kilgore waited to resign until after the legislature finishes next month, Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) would have made the decision about his replacement.
"At some point, you start campaigning full time," Griffith said of past candidates for governor. "It's very difficult to have two full-time jobs. At some point you have to say, I can't serve two masters."
Sources familiar with Kilgore's thinking, who did not want to appear to preempt the attorney general's official announcement, said the decision was finalized over the weekend. Republican lawmakers were informed at a private caucus at the Capitol on Monday night.
The decision to leave early frees Kilgore to continue raising money for what political observers say will be an expensive campaign. State law prohibits state officeholders from raising money while the General Assembly is in session.
Kilgore's likely Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, on the other hand, will have to wait until the legislature adjourns at the end of February to start raising money again.
Mo Elleithee, Kaine's spokesman, said Monday night that the decision to quit means Kilgore "broke a promise" he made to Virginians three years ago.
"Maybe he's spooked. On the same day that he learned Tim Kaine was matching him dollar for dollar in fundraising, he bails from the job in order to cheat Virginia's campaign finance laws," Elleithee said. "That's a heck of a lot to betray just to be able to raise a few campaign dollars. That's not leadership. That's just pathetic."
Earlier Monday, the leading contenders in the 2005 governor's race announced that they had raised a combined total of $4.2 million in the last six months of 2004, leaving them virtually tied in the campaign's financial sweepstakes as the election year begins.
Kaine campaign officials said they raised $2.1 million from July 1 to Dec. 31 last year. That leaves Kaine with almost $3.2 million in the bank, they said.
Kilgore raised about $2 million during the same period last year, campaign officials announced. Kilgore begins the year with $3.3 million to spend, they said.
Both campaigns said they will file complete financial disclosure reports with the State Board of Elections by Tuesday's deadline. There are no limits on contributions to Virginia state campaigns, but candidates are required to reveal the identity of anyone who donates more than $100.
Although Election Day is almost 10 months away, the campaigning has become intense. Press aides for both camps are trading political accusations almost daily.
On Friday, Carrie Cantrell, Kilgore's policy director, sent an e-mail to reporters describing statements Kaine has purportedly made about his opposition to the death penalty. Later that evening, Elleithee shot back with an e-mail accusing Kilgore of being "ineffective and weak" on public safety issues.
Both sides described campaign contributions as coming primarily from small donors in Virginia. Kaine's campaign said his reports will list 3,174 donors, including 1,156 who have never given to him before. Kilgore will report 4,700 donors, his campaign said.
Neither camp offered details of its fundraising. Both sides and the public will learn more about who contributed when the Virginia Public Access Project releases an analysis of the financial disclosure reports later this week.
Late Monday, it issued a preliminary analysis of top donors. Kaine received $50,000 and $25,000, respectively, from developers Gerald T. Halpin of McLean and Mark Fried of Springfield, and $28,000 from the state AFL-CIO. Kilgore received $50,000 from Ramon Breeden Jr., a Virginia Beach developer, and $25,000 from Shenandoah Electronic Intelligence, a Harrisonburg high-tech firm whose owner has close ties to conservative Republicans.
Kaine campaign officials said their reports do not include contributions by the Democratic National Committee that were announced last week. DNC Chairman Terrence R. McAuliffe gave Kaine's campaign a $1.5 million check Jan. 11 and promised that the national party would contribute $3.5 million more to Kaine and the state Democratic Party.