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Kilgore Ads Seek To Divide Democrats

Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, right, a Democrat, personally opposes the death penalty because of his religious beliefs, although he has said he would uphold Virginia's law. Republicans are trying to draw distinctions between him and Gov. Mark R. Warner, left, a popular Democrat.
Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, right, a Democrat, personally opposes the death penalty because of his religious beliefs, although he has said he would uphold Virginia's law. Republicans are trying to draw distinctions between him and Gov. Mark R. Warner, left, a popular Democrat. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)

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Kaine immediately responded with his own ad, which has him directly addressing the camera. "My faith teaches that life is sacred," said Kaine, who speaks often on the campaign trail about his strong Catholic beliefs. "That's why I personally oppose the death penalty. But I take my oath of office seriously, and I'll enforce the death penalty . . . because it's the law."

Several Democratic activists were taken aback by Kilgore's strong ads, and although they would not criticize the Kaine campaign openly, they said they were disappointed with Kaine's measured response. Kaine press secretary Delacey Skinner disagreed.

"Having Tim state his position very clearly is what people want to know," she said, adding that it has proven effective when Kilgore has raised the issue previously. In a Washington Post poll last month, respondents were given Kaine's position -- that he is personally opposed to the death penalty but says he will enforce it because it is state law -- and 63 percent said they thought he would keep his word. Thirty percent said they thought he would not.

The death penalty is always a potent issue in the South, and Virginia ranks third among states in executions in modern times. Still, the rate has slowed considerably. Warner, has never used his position to grant clemency, and Virginia has carried out 11 executions during his term. His Republican predecessors, James S. Gilmore III and George Allen, oversaw 37 and 24 executions, respectively, in their four-year terms.

Some leading Democrats were less worried about the popularity of the death penalty, though, than about Kilgore's campaign to make Kaine seem out of step with Warner and mainstream Virginia voters.

University of Virginia professor Larry J. Sabato, who served as moderator for a debate between Kilgore and Kaine on Sunday night, said that the ads were "powerful" and that Democrats were right to be concerned about the bigger picture.

"What this does is introduce the doubt that will enable Republicans and maybe just conservative independents to say, 'Maybe we don't know the whole story' " about Kaine, Sabato said. "It's going to be tough for Warner to defend Tim Kaine except to say what Kaine is already saying," that he will enforce the law.

But Kaine strategists say Republicans will not be able to exploit differences between the two Democrats.

"It's hard to make the case that Tim Kaine is not the logical successor when Mark Warner is on the air saying that he is the logical successor," said Kaine communications director Mo Elleithee.

Staff writers Chris L. Jenkins and Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.


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