26 GOP Delegates in Kaine's Bull's-Eye

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, left, will see how budget negotiations proceed this week before launching the campaign. Greeting him before a budget meeting is Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. Behind them is Sen. John H. Chichester.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, left, will see how budget negotiations proceed this week before launching the campaign. Greeting him before a budget meeting is Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. Behind them is Sen. John H. Chichester. (By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 5, 2006

RICHMOND, March 4 -- Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) has prepared an election-style campaign to promote more money for transportation, targeting 26 Republican lawmakers with radio ads, a direct-mail campaign and phone calls in their home districts, according to several sources familiar with the effort.

The major pieces of the campaign, a closely guarded secret in the governor's office, have been designed and assembled but not yet produced. They include scripts for radio spots and automated "robocalls" intended to get constituents to insist that their lawmakers not return home without money for new roads, bridges and trains.

The strategy is a risky one that could undermine Kaine's developing relationship with Republicans, who control both chambers in the legislature. Like his predecessor, Mark R. Warner (D), Kaine campaigned by promising a bipartisan approach to government, aware that he must find Republicans to join with Democrats to achieve success.

The 26 GOP House delegates being targeted live in Northern Virginia and in the Hampton Roads area, where transportation problems are most critical, and in some other parts of the state, the sources said.

Four sources who are aware of the operation asked not to be identified because budget negotiations between senators and delegates have just begun. The sources said Kaine and his allies in several interest groups are holding off on starting the effort until they see how the legislative discussions proceed this week.

Senators are pushing a plan to raise about $1 billion a year in new, continuing taxes and fees -- including a new tax on gasoline -- for transportation projects, while House negotiators are promoting a smaller plan to raise about $350 million in ongoing revenue each year without higher taxes.

Kaine proposed a $1 billion-a-year plan to raise the sales tax on cars, the tax on auto insurance and other fees. The governor has said he is not wedded to specific elements of either plan, but he insists that the money raised be enough to sustain a building program and not come from other state programs.

Kaine's communications director, Delacey Skinner, would not comment about details of the public relations effort.

"We have considered a number of different options for supporting the goals that the governor has in transportation," Skinner said. "All of those options we thought about . . . as contingency plans should the budget negotiations fall apart. Plan for the worst and hope for the best. So far, we feel really good about how they're going."

At a breakfast with senior business executives in the governor's mansion Thursday, Kaine did not mention the advertising campaign, but he said his staff had evaluated the 57 House Republicans and decided that 26 were persuadable, according to two people who attended the closed-door meeting.

"He asked that we contact members of the General Assembly and urge them to agree on substantial investment for transportation," said one business executive who spoke on condition of anonymity because the breakfast was private. "His message was heard, and there was no disagreement on the part of anyone in the room."

As he has done publicly for days, Kaine expressed optimism to the business leaders, according to one executive.

The governor said that he thought there was room for compromise and speculated that the Senate's proposal for an additional gas tax might eventually be dropped in exchange for a willingness by House members to embrace other user fees or taxes.

"To a fault, he's the eternal optimist," the executive said.

But even as Kaine has talked hopefully about the prospect of a deal by the time the General Assembly is scheduled to leave Saturday, his advisers have been preparing to ratchet up the pressure on reluctant lawmakers by going directly to the public.

If negotiations deadlock, the plan would be to begin a barrage of radio advertisements, automated phone calls and fliers mailed directly into the districts of the persuadable lawmakers, the sources said last week.

The idea is not to seek the defeat of the lawmakers at the polls, but to convince them that people in their districts are more concerned about traffic than they are about raising a few taxes or fees.

"The fact that the governor is using campaign-style tactics to apply pressure to recalcitrant legislators to address the transportation crisis -- that's a good thing," said Alexandria Del. Brian J. Moran, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "Unless in the next week a miracle occurs. But I don't see that anywhere close."

The public-pressure campaign is in many ways a natural one for Kaine and his inner circle, which is made up of many of the same people who led his successful campaign for governor last year.

Larry Roberts, Kaine's chief counsel, was chairman of his gubernatorial campaign last year. Brian Shepherd is Kaine's policy director and served a similar function during the campaign. Communications director Skinner was press secretary on the campaign, and Kaine's speechwriter, Jeff Kraus, was on the press staff.

When it launches, Kaine's effort will join a public relations battle that is already underway, although in a much more low-key way.

Interest groups on both sides of the tax issue have been e-mailing their supporters, writing letters to the editor and sending some targeted direct mail.

The Foundation for Virginia, which helped build pressure for tax increases two years ago, is again conducting a grass-roots campaign on behalf of raising money for transportation while protecting the money for other state programs, such as schools, health care and public safety.

On the other side, a group called the kNOw Campaign mailed a slick flier in Richmond and elsewhere urging people to "say NO to tax hikes, because we deserve better" and providing telephone numbers of state senators.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company