RICHMOND, Feb. 7 -- Virginia's last Republican governor, James S. Gilmore III, plans to endorse former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore for governor Tuesday and will urge the GOP's anti-tax wing to support Kilgore's bid for the state's top office, Gilmore said.
Gilmore will serve as honorary co-chairman of Kilgore's campaign, along with U.S. Sens. George Allen and John W. Warner. Kilgore, who resigned as attorney general Feb. 1 to run for office full time, will make the announcement Tuesday.
"The Warner governorship has been relentless about raising taxes. It's time for a change," Gilmore said of Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat. "By asking me to serve, I think Jerry's signaling an intention to address this in a forthright way."
Gilmore's decision helps clear the way for Kilgore's nomination in June and comes after a year in which Gilmore publicly toyed with the idea of making a comeback by running for governor himself.
He said Monday that Kilgore is a better choice for voters than the likely Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.
"It's clear that Tim Kaine has been a part of this irresponsible tax increase approach," Gilmore said. He said Kilgore will not be "part of the Mark Warner school of saying one thing and doing another."
Mo Elleithee, a spokesman for Kaine, said, "It took three years to pull us out of the mess that Jim Gilmore left us in. The state is back on track and now Jerry Kilgore wraps his arms around Jim Gilmore. If he wants to tout support from Jim Gilmore, we'll shout it from the rooftops." Gilmore was elected governor in 1997 on the power of his promise to end the state's annual tax on cars and is considered by many in the party to be an anti-tax champion.
But he left office in 2002 after presiding over a bitter struggle with Republicans in the Senate over how quickly to make good on his promise. State lawmakers said phasing out the car tax was consuming the state's revenue and robbing support from other state services.
In the last several years, Gilmore's reputation has been tarnished by criticism of his management of the state's bureaucracy and finances.
Last week, Governing magazine released a 50-state study that gave Virginia high marks but criticized Gilmore for betraying the culture of good government by opening "a $1 billion budget shortfall in the late 1990s with a cut in car taxes that was politically popular but fiscally unsound."
Gilmore was chairman of the Republican National Committee in his last year as governor but has remained out of politics since. He has worked at a law firm and was chairman of a national terrorism panel. He was briefly mentioned recently as a candidate for head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
But Gilmore seized on last year's decision by the legislature to put a permanent freeze on the car-tax cut to reemerge from political silence. Some political strategists predicted that Gilmore could run for governor again or for the U.S. Senate on the slogan "finish the job."
Gilmore has done little to quash rumors of a comeback. He said Monday that "I've indicated that I expect to be a candidate again at some point." But he said that he is fully supporting Kilgore this year.
Kilgore still faces a potential primary challenge from George B. Fitch, the mayor of Warrenton.