Kilgore Parlays Tenacity, Luck
Wednesday, November 2, 2005
When the Kilgores of Gate City invited a few hundred friends and associates to a barbecue at their farm in October, the family business of politics was in full tilt.
The old barn beside a twisting road two miles from town was plastered with huge blue-and-orange election signs for two sons who began following politics while still in Little League.
"Kilgore Governor" promoted Jerry W. Kilgore, who stepped down as attorney general to become the Republican candidate for Virginia governor in Tuesday's election.
"Kilgore Delegate" was for his identical twin, Terry G. Kilgore, seeking reelection to the House of Delegates.
Matriarch Willie Mae Kilgore, the Scott County registrar, greeted guests by the dessert table. Her husband, John, chairman of the county GOP committee, worked the crowd. Youngest son John Jr., head of the local Economic Development Authority, played on stage in the country equivalent of a garage band.
For someone who grew up in a family steeped in politics, Jerry Kilgore sounded almost surprised to be in Tuesday's contest.
"I thought Terry would be the one who'd run for governor," he said.
The Kilgore that ended up running for governor has sometimes come across as an uncomfortable candidate on the campaign trail, halting and scripted like the behind-the-scenes strategist he began as but who suddenly finds himself on the podium. On most television ads, such as the ones on the death penalty that heightened interest in the contest, he speaks only to proclaim that his campaign sponsored them.
To many who attended the barbecue that day, Jerry Kilgore was as unaffected and unassuming as the farm boy they watched grow up baling hay and playing piano in a tiny church named after his great-great-great-grandfather.
Over the years, they had watched the Kilgore twins immerse themselves in politics and wondered which one would run for governor. Some thought it would be the more outgoing Terry, who seemed a natural candidate compared with his more studious and detail-oriented brother. Others were certain it would be Jerry, who wrote confidently in Connie Adkins's high school yearbook, "We'll have our 10-year class reunion in the governor's mansion."
Yet for all his youthful ambitions, Kilgore's candidacy for governor is as much a product of chance as anything else. Until his early thirties, he was content being the behind-the-scenes operative who got his brother elected to public office. He was preparing to settle down to a comfortable life as prosecutor in Gate City when he was asked to join the Cabinet of then-Gov. George Allen (R). The first time he ran for public office was 1997, only at the urging of friends.
The only son to move from Gate City has brought opinions formed in the coalfields of southwestern Virginia to his campaign.