Va. Hopefuls Prep With Sparring Partners

Former state attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore is the Republican Party nominee for governor.
Former state attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore is the Republican Party nominee for governor. (Steve Helber - AP)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 14, 2005

RICHMOND, July 13 -- Lobbyist David Hallock, a former top lawyer for Gov. Mark R. Warner, has spent the last several weeks trying to come off as a highly scripted politician. Richmond attorney W. Coleman Allen Jr. has done his best as an aggressive, smooth talking trial lawyer.

Their personae: "Jerry W. Kilgore" and "Timothy M. Kaine."

On Saturday, the real Kilgore and Kaine -- Republican and Democratic nominees for governor, respectively -- will face each other in the first debate of the 2005 campaign. The 96-minute forum, a tradition that often helps define the rest of the campaign, will include questions from journalists and members of the audience and a direct exchange between the two adversaries.

To prepare, the candidates have spent hours in behind-the-scenes mock debates, using Hallock and Allen as stand-ins for their opponents in the Nov. 8 election. Aides for both camps who attended the top-secret sessions said they ranged from informal conference-table discussions to full-fledged dress rehearsals.

"We're going through the usual preparations that would be considered typical," said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Kilgore, the former attorney general. "We have run-throughs. We have a briefing book that Jerry looks over. I anticipate that the other side is doing what we're doing."

Delacey Skinner, a spokeswoman for Kaine, said the "idea is to run through everything" in advance of Saturday's contest. The debate, sponsored by the Virginia Bar Association, will start at 10:30 a.m. at the Greenbrier in West Virginia. It will not be televised.

"The point of doing a mock debate is to help a candidate get comfortable with the format," she said. "The lieutenant governor is very confident in his vision and, therefore, very comfortable in this venue."

Missing from the contest will be Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester). Although he has qualified for the ballot as an independent candidate, he has not been invited to debate Kaine and Kilgore, something he has protested.

Debates have become the premier political events in Virginia campaigns, despite scant evidence that they have much of an effect on the election's outcome. As their importance has grown, so has the need for extensive "debate prep."

Kilgore aides said they have compiled a detailed briefing book, divided by topics, for their candidate to study. In their practice sessions, they said, Allen has attempted to portray Kaine as a sharp-tongued, skilled debater so that Kilgore is ready for the real thing. Senior campaign aide Chris Nolen has also taken turns playing Kaine.

"Tim Kaine is a trial lawyer, well known as a smooth talker," Murtaugh said. "People say he's Clintonian in his debating style. He's a master debater, so we're certainly taking it seriously."

Kaine's practice sessions have been equally comprehensive, according to participants.

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