By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 20, 2005
ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Aug. 19 -- Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore went looking for votes Friday among the poultry plants and green hills of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.
The day-long trek through greater Harrisonburg gave Kilgore a chance to promote his plan for new farming tax credits and to repeat his call for an end to the estate tax. It also allowed him to brag about his upbringing on his grandfather's cattle and tobacco farm.
"The greatest conservationist I knew was my grandfather, because he had to take care of his land so it would be there year in and year out," Kilgore told a small group of farmers Friday morning.
Kilgore started his trip at a 250-acre farm owned by Matt Lohr, a GOP candidate for the House of Delegates. Dressed in slacks, a shirt and cowboy boots, Kilgore toured Lohr's pumpkin field and the chicken hatchery, which can hold 23,000 chicks raised to become broilers at the supermarket.
He told the farmers gathered there that he will fight for tax credits to help keep farmland affordable and pledged to appoint people to the state's regulatory agencies who will cooperate with the farmers.
"You will have people appointed who want to work with you, who want to see farming succeed in Virginia," Kilgore said.
For the former attorney general, appealing to the central valley is an important piece of the electoral puzzle. His support in the region has been rock solid. To win on Nov. 8, he must maintain that advantage over Democrat Timothy M. Kaine and H. Russell Potts Jr., a Republican state senator from Winchester who is running as an independent.
"Mark Earley [the Republican candidate in 2001] lost the race by the lack of big margins in the valley," Kilgore said in an interview.
Kilgore, a native of Southwest Virginia who has been living in Richmond for more than a decade, told the farmers that he is still comfortable with their lifestyle. At Lohr's farm, he rode in the back of a pickup. At a turkey processing plant, he nodded knowingly as he watched the carcasses go by on conveyor belts.
"It's important to be in the valley and remind the valley that I'm the one that shares their views," he said. Referring to his home town in rural Scott County, he added: "This region and my region, we . . . represent the farmers, the blue-collar workers. That's our strength."
Delacey Skinner, a Kaine spokeswoman, said Kilgore has opposed state funding and other measures to benefit farmers.
"Last year's budget reform package included the creation of a secretary of agriculture, in addition to providing funds for agriculture education specialists," Skinner said. "Tim Kaine and [Gov.] Mark Warner fought for these investments in Virginia's farms, while Jerry Kilgore fought against them."
Potts said in a statement that "there is one Mountain Valley Republican in this election, and it is Russ Potts" and referred to his Senate record.
"I've consistently cast over 35,000 votes in my career, many of them on behalf of the agricultural community, including preserving open spaces and farmland, voting to eliminate the estate tax, funding the 4-H Center in Warren County and stopping Wal-Mart on the banks of the Shenandoah River -- a project strongly opposed by the agricultural community."
At the Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative in Hinton, Kilgore watched as turkeys were cleaned, deboned and carved into pieces for shipment. Hundreds of workers stood with knives as the turkey spun along a conveyor belt. Once carved, chunks of turkey fell into big vats of ice.
After visiting the turkey plant, Kilgore sat for an interview at a TV station and then shook hands at Jess's Lunch, an institution in Harrisonburg.
There, he got the support of Ray Schneider, 63, a math professor at a local college.
"I've never met a Democrat I'm not willing to vote against," Schneider said, praising Kilgore for his recent statements in opposition to public financing for a day laborer center in Herndon.
"You're on the right side," Schneider's wife, Jessica, told Kilgore.
After lunch, Kilgore held a news conference to highlight his support for a law allowing the state to execute gang leaders who order killings. He then headed to the Rockingham County Fair for the annual demolition derby.
Steve Saufley, 54, a cattle farmer from Rockingham, said he is certain to vote for Kilgore. Riding in the pickup with Kilgore on Lohr's farm, Saufley asked: "Jerry, what can we do for you?"
Referring to his 2001 campaign for attorney general, Kilgore answered: "Just give me 80 percent, like you did last time."