Virginia Governor's Race Tightest In Years

By Michael D. Shear and Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 7, 2005

The candidates for governor of Virginia stalked voters in the southwestern coal country and in the parking lots of FedEx Field yesterday during the final hours of a contest that polls show is the closest in more than a decade and in which turnout efforts could be especially critical.

Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, hoping to succeed a fellow Democrat in a state that has been friendlier to Republicans in recent years, rallied supporters along the borders with Kentucky and West Virginia, near where his Republican opponent, Jerry W. Kilgore, grew up.

Kilgore, who wants to draw away Kaine's strong support in the suburbs of Washington, visited the Virginia tailgaters in the Purple Lot at FedEx Field in Landover, where he was joined by Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), son of the late Redskins football coach.

Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester), the long-shot independent candidate who could draw enough votes to swing the race to one of the other contenders, campaigned at the George Mason University Law School. He attended the dedication of Hazel Hall, named for one of Potts's biggest contributors, developer John T. "Til" Hazel.

Today, Potts plans to campaign at Metro stops while Kaine and Kilgore cross the state with their mentors.

Kaine will appear at rallies in Roanoke, Northern Virginia, Richmond and Norfolk with Gov. Mark R. Warner (D). And Kilgore is hoping a final, 8 p.m. rally with President Bush in Richmond will drive up turnout among his supporters in tomorrow's voting. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Recent surveys show Kaine and Kilgore in a virtual dead heat. With traditional supporters accounted for, the Republican and Democratic campaigns are hoping to lure new voters. Republican operatives call them "lazy voters"; Democrats have dubbed them "federal voters." Tomorrow, they will almost surely decide who becomes the next governor.

Hundreds of thousands of Virginians line up at polling booths every four years to vote for president. And then they take four years off, ignoring city council, school board, legislative and governor's races.

In 2004, 71 percent of the state's registered voters cast ballots for president, far more than the 46 percent who voted in the 2001 governor's race. Kilgore and Kaine have spent millions to find them -- and then pester and cajole them into showing up to vote.

"You take someone who usually doesn't vote in a governor's race, and we've got to touch them four or five times to get them to vote," said Mary A. "Mame" Reiley, a senior Democratic strategist.

Both parties say they have "touched" more voters in Virginia than ever. In political parlance, a touch could be a phone call back in June or a personal visit by a volunteer in September or a glossy mailer in October. The final touches will come tomorrow, when armies of volunteers fan out across Virginia's 2,230 precincts to bring people to the polling places.

Both campaigns know a lot about Virginia's 4.4 million registered voters. They know whether they've voted in a Democratic or Republican primary, how often they vote and which magazines they buy.

"It's not about the last few days of the campaign," said Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, who visited Kilgore phone banks in Fredericksburg and Stafford yesterday. "It's about starting a year before the election to . . . build up that database."

The GOP Effort

Like the Democrats, Republicans say their get-out-the-vote, or GOTV, plans are secret. In a race this close, they say, every little advantage helps. And there's no advantage in telling your opponent where you plan to look for your best voters.

"Millions" is all Kilgore campaign manager Ken Hutcheson says when asked how much money his campaign is spending on turnout efforts. Overall, his campaign has raised $22 million, more than any governor's campaign in state history.

But Kilgore and his campaign aides say their efforts are modeled on those Bush employed to drive new voters to the polls in 2004. Experts say that both parties did a good job of turnout in that election but that Republicans were better.

"We've ramped up our efforts in Virginia to make sure we ... find all those like-minded voters who might not otherwise get out to the polls," Kilgore said. "We know how to find our voters."

Mehlman, who led the Bush turnout effort, is helping to coordinate a similar one for Kilgore. The Virginia campaign has had almost 10,000 volunteers working at points throughout the year, Hutcheson said. They've identified 2 million voters who are likely to vote for Kilgore, and they've touched 1.5 million of them with 1,215,137 phone calls and 277,016 doors knocked on.

The key, Republican sources said, is to target voters in places Republicans normally don't go. Past campaigns would not have spent time trying to turn out a precinct in Alexandria where 80 percent of the households are Democrats. Now, with the new databases, they can target the 20 percent who are likely to vote Republican.

Even Democrats are impressed -- and a bit worried.

"The Republicans do a good job of identifying the vote and making sure it gets delivered on Election Day," said Rep. Rick Boucher (D). In his southwest Virginia district in 2004, Boucher said, "I think they got just about every Bush vote available."

The Democratic Effort

Teachers, firefighters and other unionized workers have begun fanning out across Virginia, knocking on doors and making phone calls.

The mobile unit for the Service Employees International Union, a purple tractor-trailer, sits behind the McLean headquarters for the Democratic get-out-the-vote effort, a sign of the important role that unions play for Kaine.

"This is going to be a squeaker, and it will all come down to turnout," said Daniel G. LeBlanc, the president of the Virginia AFL-CIO. LeBlanc said he is personally committed to getting 25 people to vote for Kaine. "We've worked shoulder to shoulder with Governor Warner, so it is natural for us to support Kaine."

Michael Mohler, president of the Virginia Professional Firefighters union, said he has "hundreds" of members manning the phones, putting up yard signs, knocking on doors and ready to drive reluctant voters to the polls.

In 2001, Warner mounted what political observers said was an unprecedented effort to turn out Democratic voters.

The multimillionaire spent $3.5 million on voter outreach, according to his campaign manager, Steve Jarding. Volunteers and 135 full-time staffers contacted 1.3 million households between April and November.

Sources familiar with the Kaine effort said they have budgeted $5 million for turnout. Kaine's campaign manager, Mike Henry, was in charge of Warner's get-out-the-vote program four years ago.

Much of Kaine's money will be spent on "flushing," a term Democrats use to describe efforts to make sure that people in heavily Democratic communities actually vote.

Reiley said Kaine has also organized a massive transportation effort to get people from condominiums and senior centers to polling places.

But Democratic sources said Kaine has expanded his turnout efforts to include areas normally considered Republican. That could help boost Kaine's vote in the suburbs around Washington and in Richmond and in Hampton Roads.

Kaine said he has "great confidence" in the people running his turnout effort. "They know what was done [in 2001]. Their goal is to start with that as the base and dramatically exceed it," he said.

At least one Democrat is hopeful but skeptical. Reiley described Warner as a "cat on a hot tin roof" waiting for Election Day.

"Every four years, they say they have the best GOTV," Warner said in a recent interview. "And you never really know until Election Day."

Staff writers Steven Ginsberg and Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

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