As Democratic gubernatorial candidate Timothy M. Kaine campaigned across Northern Virginia, trailed by supporters, aides and his own videographer, Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch conducted a more modest affair yesterday.
The small-town mayor, who is seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, spoke to several hundred honor students at Chantilly High School.
George B. Fitch, who supported the Jamaican bobsled team, now wants to be governor.
(Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Po St)
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There were no signs with his name, no prominent politicians in the crowd. Instead, Fitch regaled the students with stories of how he organized and funded the Jamaican bobsled team in the 1980s , comparing that unlikely Olympic bid to his own long-shot candidacy.
"If you believe in something, even if it's just a crazy idea that you came up with, do not be discouraged by the people, including perhaps your family and your friends, who tell you it's impossible," he told the students.
Former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore generally is considered the front-runner for the GOP nomination. Kilgore has been embraced by Virginia's Republican Party and endorsed by such leaders as former governor James S. Gilmore III. But Fitch, 57, said he is running a grass-roots campaign to beat Kilgore in classic come-from-behind fashion, with the tenacity of the bobsledders, upon whom the Disney movie "Cool Runnings" was loosely based.
Fitch, an international trade consultant, pledged in an interview to bring a businessman's sensibility to the governor's office, promising to repeat his efforts as Warrenton's mayor, where he helped slash town taxes and spending, even as the Fauquier County town's population grew. He said he has examined the state budget and found $2 billion in wasteful spending, money that could be used to improve transportation and protect the environment.
He said he was disappointed by Kilgore's actions last year when the General Assembly stalemated over a plan to raise taxes by $1.5 billion over two years. Kilgore, then serving as attorney general, opposed the idea, but the legislature ultimately approved it with the votes of Democrats and some Republicans. Fitch said he was disappointed that Kilgore failed to broker a solution between feuding party members.
"Where was he?" Fitch asked. "We had this intramural food fight within the Republican Party. . . . If I'm Jerry Kilgore, at least the titular head of the party, I step in. . . . That didn't happen."
Kilgore, meanwhile, has raised more than $5 million for his campaign and will be conducting a statewide kickoff tour next week akin to Kaine's. A spokesman for his campaign said they are focusing on the likely Democratic nominee, not Fitch.
"[Fitch] is perfectly free to run, but we've been focused on Tim Kaine for quite some time," said Tim Murtaugh, Kilgore's spokesman. "People know where Jerry Kilgore is on support for lower taxes."
Fitch said that attitude is disrespectful of the choice Republican voters face in the primary. He said his campaign is on track. He, too, is traveling the state. Last week he was in the Tidewater area, and he was scheduled to depart yesterday afternoon for a swing through southwest Virginia.
More than 65 volunteers are working on his campaign statewide, he said, adding that he is on track to gather the 10,000 signatures he needs to appear on the June 14 primary ballot with Kilgore. Acknowledging that name recognition may be a problem, Fitch said he aims to collect at least 4,000 of those signatures personally, allowing him to meet more potential voters.
"We shouldn't just anoint Jerry Kilgore because it's his turn and he's next in line," Fitch said.