Kilgore Ads Seek To Divide Democrats
Thursday, October 13, 2005
It was the political punch that everyone saw coming: Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore's emotional television ads that denounce Democratic opponent Timothy M. Kaine's opposition to the death penalty.
Virginia's voters overwhelmingly support capital punishment, and any candidate who finds his opponent on the other side of such a popular issue is going to use it. From the start of the campaign, former attorney general Kilgore has highlighted the difference.
But in the closing weeks of the contest, the ads serve a second purpose as well -- to portray Kaine, the lieutenant governor, as a man with different priorities from his political mentor, Gov. Mark R. Warner (D).
Such a distinction could be key on Nov. 8, when Virginians decide on a replacement for Warner, who is riding high in public opinion polls after leading the state for almost four years.
Kaine has based his campaign on the promise that he is the logical choice to "keep Virginia moving forward" since Warner is barred from seeking reelection. But the Kilgore campaign believes it can break open what both sides describe as an extremely close race by portraying the lieutenant governor as a chameleon who doesn't share Warner's middle-of-the-road persona.
The strategy is "separating Kaine from Warner and further making the case he's not Mark Warner part two," said a Republican strategist familiar with the campaign who would discuss campaign tactics only on condition of anonymity. "It is probably one of the most crucial elements for success."
Although Warner makes a point of not criticizing Kilgore directly -- or even mentioning him by name if he can help it -- he has been lavish in his praise of Kaine, holding fundraisers on his behalf, campaigning with him around the state and appearing in television ads in which he praises Kaine's "guts."
But Kaine needs more than Warner's endorsement in a state that leans Republican. "Mark Warner had the ability to appeal to different constituencies because he ran to the center on social issues, it was hard for Republicans to characterize Warner as too liberal," said George Mason University political science professor Mark J. Rozell, who is closely watching the race.
"Tim Kaine doesn't quite have all of that protection."
Kilgore, who has tried to expand the kinds of crimes that would be eligible for the death penalty, has talked about Kaine's opposition throughout the campaign. But even Democrats were unprepared for the stark and emotional tone of his ads.
One features the widow of a Winchester police officer whose husband was killed in the line of duty. "How could you not think the death penalty was appropriate" for her husband's killer, asked Kelly Timbrook. "When Tim Kaine calls the death penalty murder, I find it offensive."
The other ad shows Stanley Rosenbluth, whose son and daughter-in-law were murdered in 1993. Kaine was involved in representing the killer, who was later executed. "No matter how heinous the crime, he doesn't believe that death is a punishment," Rosenbluth says. "Being as liberal as he is on the death penalty, he's not representing everybody in the state."