RICHMOND, Jan. 18 -- Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) said Tuesday he will resign on Feb. 1 to run for governor even as his campaign staff continued to engage in what has become an almost daily exchange of attacks with campaigners for Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D).
Kilgore, who was in the final year of his term, told his staff in a private meeting Tuesday morning that he will follow tradition in Virginia and resign early to campaign full time. He said he has accepted a job as a lawyer with the Richmond firm of Williams Mullen.
"I am stepping down to pursue a goal that will take tremendous time," Kilgore told his staff, according to prepared remarks distributed later. "The achievement of this goal would not be possible while remaining in this post. And it would not be fair to attempt to do so."
Kilgore later told reporters that his decision was dictated by a desire to let the Republican-controlled General Assembly choose an interim attorney general to fill the remainder of his four-year term. State law allows the legislature to pick a replacement for a vacancy that occurs while they are in session.
Kilgore said he feared Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) would not pick someone committed to "continuity" from among the 300 employees of the attorney general's office.
"Who knows who he would have appointed," Kilgore said. "I have no idea. It would have been unpredictable. I thought my office needed continuity."
Virginia law does not allow state officials to raise campaign funds during a legislative session. Kilgore will now be able to solicit funds for several weeks while Kaine cannot until the session ends in late February.
Kilgore said he is urging lawmakers to appoint his deputy, Judith W. Jagdmann, who heads the office's civil division. He called Jagdmann a "great choice" who has handled difficult issues during eight years as a career lawyer in the department.
Several senior Republican lawmakers have said they expect Jagdmann to have wide support in the General Assembly for the interim appointment.
Kaine scheduled a conference call with reporters for Tuesday afternoon. Kaine spokesman Mo Elleithee issued a statement late Monday night criticizing Kilgore's decision to resign. He said 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."
In response, Carrie Cantrell, Kilgore's policy director, issued a statement Tuesday morning accusing Kaine of practicing "the art of hypocrisy."
Cantrell noted that Kaine resigned in 2001 from his position as mayor of the city of Richmond to run full-time for lieutenant governor. She quoted Kaine as saying at the time that "The best thing I think I can do for the city is win."
She added: "Is the right hand speaking to the left hand? Or perhaps they just don't know what to say?"
Jagdmann said she is "thrilled and honored that [Attorney General] Kilgore has put his faith and trust in me. I would hope to build on the good work that Jerry Kilgore has achieved. The main goal of the attorney general is to defend the Commonwealth."
In eight years, Jagdmann has overseen deregulation issues, employment law and the department's trial section. Earlier, she worked as a lawyer for the State Corporation Commission.