This year, the war began 33 miles away, along Route 460, leading to the wooded gathering. Thousands of red-white-and-blue Kaine signs competed for attention with blue-and-orange Kilgore signs and a few red-and-white ones for Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester), an independent candidate for governor.
The verdict: Kaine by a landslide, as even the Kilgore staffers could be heard muttering. Kaine's signs -- on poles, along the road and even in trees -- far outnumbered Kilgore's. Early Wednesday, Kilgore's press office sent out e-mails that contained digital pictures of cars that supposedly had brought out-of-state Democrats to help with Kaine's signs.
At the microphone, Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore and his Democratic counterpart, Timothy M. Kaine, speak at the Shad Planking, Virginia's long-standing political ritual built on two foundations: politics and fish.
(Robert A. Reeder - The Washington Post)
Shad Planking: The Shad Planking began in the 1930s, near Smithfield, as an opportunity for white "Virginia gentlemen" to drink, tell tall tales and eat fish. The event was moved to Wakefield in 1949.
"California, New Hampshire, New Jersey, oh, my!" said Tim Murtaugh, Kilgore's press secretary. Kaine aides called that accusation silly. "What I know is that we won the sign war," press secretary Delacey Skinner shot back.
Kaine also took the prize for originality, lobbyists and townspeople said. Along Route 460, large orange signs mocked Kilgore for "ducking" debates by only agreeing to a single one so far. One said: "Why did the duck cross the road?" The next one, about a mile later, answered: "To avoid debates." A bit later, one asked: "Why didn't Jerry catch the Shad?" only to answer: "Because he's afraid of da-bait."
In between the beer lines and the plates of greasy shad with baked beans, politicians made sure everyone got a full helping of campaigning.
"This is Virginia. This is America. It's a trip back to the Roaring Twenties, when you campaigned without slick television ads and glossy brochures. This is all about pressing the flesh," Potts said. Asked if he's daunted by the demonstration of organizational prowess by Kilgore and Kaine, he smiled and said: "It's not who sells the most hot dogs at the stadium. It's who puts the most points on the board."
Some key players did not attend. Republican U.S. Sens. John W. Warner and George Allen were in Washington for votes, and Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) was in Japan on a trade mission.
The crowd roared when Kilgore said he received advice from Allen that was a spinoff of the former governor's threat to the General Assembly, which at the time was controlled y Democrats. "Knock the soft shad down their whiny throats!" Kilgore yelled.