Taxes and Transportation Top Va. Debate

Michael D. Shear and Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Virginia's candidates for governor engaged in an afternoon of face-to-face recriminations on tax and transportation issues yesterday, clashing during two debates in Fairfax County over who could better manage the taxpayers' money and ease Northern Virginia's traffic congestion.

Republican candidate Jerry W. Kilgore and Democrat Timothy M. Kaine faced each other in the first hour-long event, a forum sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce that has become a critical event in Virginia's fall campaign season. H. Russell Potts Jr., a Republican senator from Winchester who is running as an independent, was not invited to that, but Kaine joined him afterward in the same hotel for another hour-long session sponsored by the Virginia Education Forum. Both were televised by NewsChannel 8.

Kaine was aggressive in challenging the men he referred to as his two Republican opponents. He called Kilgore "mean-spirited" and repeatedly accused him of wanting to turn back progress made under Gov. Mark R. Warner (D).

"Jerry Kilgore has fought against every reform that Mark Warner and I have worked on in the last three years," Kaine said.

In his second exchange, Kaine said Potts would be unable to lead a complicated and diverse state such as Virginia after Potts challenged Kaine's claim to being the natural heir to Warner. The contest, which started gently and heated up, ended with Potts calling Kaine "immoral" for making promises he wouldn't be able to keep.

"If you're looking for Warner 2, you're more likely to get it from Russ Potts than you are in Tim Kaine, ladies and gentlemen," Potts said.

During the first debate, Kilgore said Kaine is a "liberal" whose main goal would be to raise taxes while doing nothing to improve transportation in Northern Virginia.

"Just admit it, Tim," Kilgore said in one of many personal exchanges between the two men. "You raised taxes. He's afraid to say to Virginians that he raised taxes."

But Kilgore faltered under a series of questions by moderator Tim Russert, host of NBC's Meet the Press. Asked by Russert whether he would sign a bill to outlaw abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade , Kilgore refused to answer, calling the question hypothetical.

Russert, who thrills in catching national politicians in contradictions on his Sunday morning show, followed up quickly by asking whether Kilgore would veto a tax increase. Kilgore fell for the trick question, saying he would.

"That's a hypothetical question!" Russert said, prompting laughter from the luncheon crowd of more than 500 Northern Virginia business executives in the ballroom of the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner.

"Kilgore was nervous and tense. He sounded bad. He argued badly," said University of Virginia politics professor Larry Sabato, who is scheduled to moderate a debate Oct. 9. "This was Kaine's best performance ever."

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