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Attacks Grow In Va. Race, And So Does Voter Anger

An ad for Jerry Kilgore attacking Timothy Kaine's death penalty stand features Stanley Rosenbluth, father of a murder victim. Kaine was part of the suspect's defense team.
An ad for Jerry Kilgore attacking Timothy Kaine's death penalty stand features Stanley Rosenbluth, father of a murder victim. Kaine was part of the suspect's defense team. (Www.jerrykilgore.com)

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By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 17, 2005

RICHMOND -- Negative campaigning has seized hold of the Virginia gubernatorial race in what political strategists now say will be a final three weeks dominated by death penalty ads and accusations of manipulation and lying.

Republican Jerry W. Kilgore and Democrat Timothy M. Kaine are flooding the airwaves with invective-filled spots they hope will make the difference in a close election. But the tenor of the campaign is prompting some voters to recoil in frustration.

In interviews with more than two dozen teachers, business owners, college students and homemakers across the state last week, Virginians said they felt inundated by the barrage of ads and unmoved by their messages.

Karen Hudson, 48, of Tazewell called it "mudslinging" and said she is disappointed. Suffolk banker Linda Bradshaw, 32, said she hates the "bashing." Kingstown resident Kathleen Snyder, 39, called it all "a colossal waste of time." And Audrey Davidson, an administrator for the Halifax County public school system, said the race has devolved over the past six months.

"Initially, we had two saints running for office," Davidson said over lunch at Ernie's Restaurant in South Boston. "Now, we find out that we have two men with the Devil as an opponent."

But national experts in political advertising say the attack strategy works, so it continues.

Advisers to Kilgore and Kaine promised, if anything, an escalation of the air war. Millions of dollars, hoarded for months in both camps, are flying out the window, and such national luminaries as former president Bill Clinton, first lady Laura Bush and former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani are arriving to help raise even more.

"There's a myth that we're all independent actors who make up [our] own minds. No one wants to admit they can be swayed by television," said Darrell M. West, a professor at Brown University and the author of "Air Wars," a history of campaign ads.

"It's like teenagers never are willing to admit they are influenced by their parents," he said. "But we know they are."

The week's opening volley by Kilgore -- two raw, emotional ads featuring the father and the widow of murder victims -- followed weeks of ads by Kilgore and Kaine aimed at demonizing each other on their records in office, taxes, school funding and campaign donors.

The candidate in the race who has not followed the pattern is Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester), who is running as an independent. Although known as a pit bull in the state Senate, he has remained positive in his campaign advertising. His first ad featured scenes of people banging pots and yelling, "We want Potts!"

At Baron's Pub in Suffolk on Thursday, Bradshaw recalled one of Kaine's early ads. It showed him playing with his children and ended with his 11-year-old daughter, Annella, saying: "Tim Kaine. A great dad for governor."


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