In Close Race, Kaine, Kilgore Focus on Identity Over the Issues

By Robert Barnes and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 6, 2005

Virginia's down-to-the-wire contest to replace popular governor Mark R. Warner will likely turn on whether voters agree that Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine will keep the state moving in a direction they like or decide he's not their brand of Democrat.

Kaine, 47, wants Tuesday's election to be a referendum on the last four years and pledges to repay Warner's endorsement by "moving Virginia forward" with the same kind of moderate but progressive policies that have earned Warner historically high approval ratings. Even two-thirds of the commonwealth's Republicans like the job Warner has done.

Republican nominee Jerry W. Kilgore, the former attorney general, promises a stronger economy, lower taxes and more money for services. But, primarily, Kilgore wants this year's election to be a referendum on Kaine.

Kilgore, 44, has abandoned the strategy of successful Republicans who trumpeted a signature issue that resonated with voters: George Allen's 1993 promise to abolish parole and enact school standards, and James S. Gilmore III's pledge four years later to get rid of the hated car tax, for example.

Instead, Kilgore has spent millions of dollars in television advertising to portray his opponent as too liberal for Virginia, untrustworthy on the death penalty and taxes, and himself as the protector of a general conservatism that Virginians have endorsed in the past.

"The campaign from the Kilgore perspective has been all about Kaine," said Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia professor who is a connoisseur of the state's quadrennial political contests. "And from the Kaine perspective, it's all about Warner."

Campaign 2005 has been thick with negative advertising, especially on Kilgore's part, and lacking in big initiatives. A Washington Post poll taken Oct. 23 through 26 asked Virginia voters which candidate had the best new ideas, and nearly 60 percent said "neither."

The election "has not been about the issues that are of critical importance to the commonwealth and the business environment," said Michael P. Carlin, a former chairman of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.

But it is extremely close. Polls indicate that Kaine has overcome the deficit he faced this summer, but neither candidate has broken open the race. With scant time left to convince undecided voters, each has multimillion-dollar battle plans to turn out the voters they think are already believers. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Voters will also choose between Republican Robert F. McDonnell and Democrat R. Creigh Deeds for attorney general and pick either Democrat Leslie L. Byrne or Republican Bill Bolling to serve as lieutenant governor. All 100 seats in the House of Delegates are open, although only a handful are considered to be competitive.

Yesterday, the state's leading Republican politicians joined Kilgore at a rally in Springfield, where he declared himself the "pro-gun-owner, anti-tax, limited-government, anti-illegal-immigration, pro-public-safety, pro-death-penalty . . . trust-the-people conservative."

Kaine and Warner attended rallies and potluck suppers in Southwest Virginia with Byrne and Deeds. At one stop, Kaine said, "It's hard to remember one positive thing [Kilgore] has put out about himself or what he wants to do."

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