Former Va. Governors Come Out Swinging

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 25, 2007

RICHMOND -- Former governor James S. Gilmore III wanted to create a Web site and video last week to announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, but he didn't have the money.

"We did it on credit," said Dick Leggitt, a Gilmore adviser. "We went ahead and ordered the stuff. The bills came in this week, and now that we've formed a [federal] committee, we will pay for it."

Gilmore's borrowing played right into the hands of Mark R. Warner, who succeeded him as governor and is the likely Democratic nominee. "That's how he financed state government the last two years of his term," quipped Kevin Hall, Warner's communications director.

If Gilmore wins the GOP nomination and Warner is the Democratic candidate, Virginians can expect similar jabs from both sides in next year's race to replace retiring Sen. John W. Warner (R).

Most Senate races next year will probably focus on the economy and the war in Iraq, but Virginia's adds another element: Who did a better job as governor? Warner or Gilmore?

Warner, who was governor from 2002 to 2006, has said he inherited a multiyear, $6 billion deficit because of Gilmore's reckless fiscal policies, including his push to eliminate the unpopular car tax.

Despite steep budget cuts early in his term, Warner has said he had to push through a $1.4 billion tax increase in 2004, even though during his campaign he pledged not to raise taxes.

"Virginians will have an opportunity to make a clear choice between two starkly different records," Warner said in a statement the day Gilmore announced his candidacy.

In a sign that Virginia voters could be in for a grueling year-long campaign, Gilmore is fighting back. Known for his combativeness and ability to deliver a punch in the heat of a political campaign, Gilmore plans to defend his fiscal record aggressively and poke holes in Warner's assertion that he had no choice but to raise taxes.

"We are going to meet him with the facts," Gilmore said Friday.

Under Virginia's constitution, the state budget must be balanced, Gilmore noted.

"My budgets were balanced. . . . He had his own spending decisions to make," Gilmore said. "We warned him the recession was creating revenues less than expected, which meant he would have a shortfall. But that doesn't mean you close it by increasing taxes, unless you are a liberal. We are fiscal conservatives."

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company