Skipping Bush's Va. Speech Isn't a Snub, Kilgore Says

By Michael D. Shear and Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore has decided not to attend President Bush's appearance in Norfolk on Friday, saying it is not a campaign-related event and that he has other plans 11 days before the election.

Bush has scheduled a speech on terrorism in the Hampton Roads region, home to one of the largest concentrations of military personnel on the East Coast. But Kilgore, who is in a dead-heat battle with Democratic Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, said that Bush's address is a "policy" speech and that he has an important appearance at a luncheon for the state NAACP at the same time.

"I'm not ignoring the president," Kilgore said. "I just understand their policies on official business. He's been here for me. The first lady has been here for me. The chief of staff has been here."

The decision highlights some concerns among Virginia Republicans, who have watched nervously in recent weeks as Bush's popularity has waned and as scandals involving presidential aides and congressional leaders have dominated news coverage. Although it is unclear how the national political environment affects voters choosing who should lead their state, even small shifts are important in races that are as close as the Virginia contest.

Kilgore and the White House said there was nothing unusual about Kilgore not attending a policy address from the president, but some Democrats and independent analysts thought it significant that Bush would visit in the final weeks of the campaign and not stump for the party's standard-bearer.

"All these big-name figures coming to the state, but President Bush is coming this close to the election and not campaigning for Kilgore?" asked Mark J. Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University who is closely following the governor's race. "I think that's very telling.

"I think it's highly likely that the Kilgore campaign folks just don't see Bush as an asset."

White House spokesman Trent Duffy dismissed the notion that Kilgore would avoid appearing with Bush. "You're suspecting he doesn't want to be seen with the president," Duffy said. "I don't think that's what they would say."

He noted that the speech would focus on terrorism. "The president's event is not a political rally. It's an official event."

Kilgore press secretary Tim Murtaugh echoed that.

"We really wouldn't be invited to a presidential event," he said. "They keep the political events and the presidential [events] separate. We appreciate the president's support."

Asked if the Kilgore campaign had requested that the president also do a campaign event while he was in the state, Murtaugh said it had not, because Kilgore's day was already busy. Asked if Bush might schedule a later campaign appearance with Kilgore, Duffy said "stay tuned."

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