In Last Face-Off, Candidates Drive Home Familiar Points
Monday, October 10, 2005
RICHMOND, Oct. 9 -- Virginia's major-party candidates for governor began their final, 30-day sprint to the finish line Sunday night, facing each other on statewide television in a final debate that served more as a summary of previous campaigning than a springboard for new ideas.
Republican Jerry W. Kilgore and Democrat Timothy M. Kaine exchanged sound-bite answers to 32 rapid-fire questions from the moderator, a panel of reporters and voters whose queries were e-mailed before the debate.
Although each emphasized his experience in public office and sought to cast his opponent as unfit to serve, neither broke new ground. Instead, they stuck to carefully scripted words honed over more than a year of campaigning.
Kilgore said Kaine, the lieutenant governor, was a "mediocre mayor" of Richmond, and he repeatedly called the Democrat a liberal who would raise taxes if elected.
"Tim Kaine is going to raise the gas tax," Kilgore said several times. "I'll be a governor that will not raise the gas tax."
Kaine said Kilgore, the former attorney general, "can't be trusted" to lead the state because of his opposition to the administration of Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) in the past four years. Several times, he accused Kilgore of "making stuff up" during the debate and in his campaign ads.
"You're not fit to be governor if you make stuff up on this stage," Kaine said.
The third and final debate of the 2005 campaign season had the feel of a NASCAR race: The questions in the hour-long debate were short and the answers even shorter as the candidates raced against the clock. Moderator Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia professor, said the candidates were asked a record number of questions.
Unlike last month's debate at the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, where Kilgore's performance was panned, both candidates in Sunday night's debate were crisp, aggressive and on message.
Topics ranged from gay adoption, abortion and oil drilling in and near the Chesapeake Bay to Hurricane Katrina, public education and transportation projects. Political observers said the debate had the potential to sharpen and focus the campaign as it winds down before the Nov. 8 election.
"We have two very different candidates, and that is what they are going to highlight until the election," Sabato said. "I think we're headed for low turnout, which means that each campaign is going to aim for its base."
Four years ago at this point, Warner held a double-digit lead over his Republican opponent, Mark L. Earley. But this time, both sides agree, the race is much closer.