I N D E X   P A G E S:
Beyer and Gilmore Accelerate Attacks
By Mike Allen and Spencer S. Hsu
Virginia's candidates for governor said yesterday that they would spend the final 3 1/2 weeks of their campaigns focused on defining their visions for the state, but spent much of a 90-minute face-off ripping into each other's records.
At one point during their lunch-time appearance at The Washington Post, Republican James S. Gilmore III looked across a conference table at Donald S. Beyer Jr. and said that the Democrat "can't beat me in this election, so he has to put up a straw man that he can beat, and I guess that's Pat Robertson." Beyer has put out scathing television ads linking Gilmore to the television evangelist's conservative stances on schools and abortion.
Beyer, Virginia's lieutenant governor, later tried to trivialize Gilmore's signature proposal to virtually eliminate the personal property tax on cars and trucks.
"Jim can talk about his car tax," Beyer said, adding that his own campaign is about "the much deeper commitment to the investments in Virginia that are going to make it look different when we leave office."
Several times, Gilmore, 48, interrupted Beyer to question his honesty, correct his figures or challenge his facts.
"I want everybody to know here that is a fraud on the people of this state," Gilmore, a former state attorney general, said in responding to one of Beyer's allegations.
Gilmore was referring to Beyer's accusations that the Republican was soft on child molesters when he was a suburban Richmond prosecutor.
Beyer repeated yesterday a challenge from a Monday night debate in which he pledged a cease-fire on attack ads -- but only if Gilmore agreed.
Two other times, Gilmore injected: "He's being dishonest with you at this very minute." Gilmore's attacks parroted an advertisement he began airing yesterday that ended, "Don Beyer: dishonest on parole, dishonest on taxes, dishonest on education. Just another politician."
The confrontation between Beyer and Gilmore was an indicator of the sense of urgency that has creeped into what remains a tight race, accelerating the pace of attack television ads. A poll released yesterday by Mason Dixon Political/Media Research Inc. indicated that the race, drawing national attention this year as one of only two gubernatorial campaigns, is even at 43 percent.
What Beyer didn't say was that yesterday morning, his campaign had launched an ad suggesting that Gilmore is an extremist on abortion. Beyer supports abortion rights; Gilmore has said that abortion should be illegal after the first eight to 12 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape and incest. Gilmore wants a law requiring minor girls to get a parent's permission before having an abortion.
At lunch, Beyer, 47, said one way to clean up the campaign would be to limit ads to candidate statements to the camera, "and to get rid of the anonymous voices and the scary music" so prevalent in many ads.
Gilmore responded by blasting the Democrat: "If we can believe that Don is going to stop what he started doing. . . . " Pressed on Beyer's offer, Gilmore said, "Well, I don't know whether we can or not," then turned to his ad man, Dick Leggitt, who was sitting at the end of the table.
Leggitt jumped in and said half of Gilmore's ads have been positive, while "almost none" of Beyer's have been. "The playing field is not level," he said. "We'd be disarming after he has pummeled us."
Despite his scorching ads, Beyer tried to play Good Cop, at one point even boiling down his and Gilmore's campaign messages as the choices Virginia voters will face on Nov. 4.
"When push comes to shove, if [voters] only get to know one or two or three things about me, I'd like them to know that I'm a Northern Virginia businessman," Beyer said, "the father of four, committed to making Virginia schools the best in the nation. I think I can surmise from Jim what he wants them to know: No car tax; 4,000 new teachers."
Gilmore did not disagree.
Beyer defended his commercial showing side-by-side photos of Gilmore and Pat Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition, who has contributed a total of $100,000 to Gilmore's two statewide campaigns. The Democrat said it was not meant to offend people who consider themselves evangelical Christians.
"This has nothing to do with religion -- this isn't about criticizing an evangelical minister because he's an evangelical minister," Beyer said, but about a "very overt political . . . extreme, ultra-conservative agenda."
Gilmore countered: "I don't know Pat Robertson's agenda on education. I don't know Pat Robertson's vision for Virginia. I'm working on my vision for Virginia."
Despite carrying platforms that voters have had difficulty distinguishing, the men hold very different views on issues crucial to the state's future.
On tobacco, the men differed over whether the state should help wean farmers and workers from the crop.
Gilmore said he would work to expand the whole state's economy but added that "you can't really replace tobacco with another product and maintain the standard of living of those families who are on the farm."
Beyer said he supports using proceeds from a national tobacco settlement or using federal crop subsidies to help families make the transition from tobacco to other crops.
The candidates clashed sharply over Virginia's last major tax increase, which was passed in 1986 under then-Gov. Gerald L. Baliles (D) to pay for a major state highway expansion.
Beyer said that although he is not supporting any tax increases this year, he would have voted for the Baliles plan. "I would challenge Jim Gilmore: What roads should we not have built in the last 12 years?" Beyer asked. "It was the right thing to do, and I think we have gained immeasurably."
Gilmore answered "certainly not" when asked whether he also would have voted for the increase. Gilmore compared Beyer to Baliles, who disavowed tax increases during his campaign but changed course at his inauguration, citing new findings by a state highway commission.
After the lunch, Beyer expressed astonishment that Gilmore would reject the Baliles blueprint. "My God, where would we be without it?" Beyer asked. "Look at all the transportation investment we have made over the last 11 years that would not have been possible."
The tax rise, worth about $600 million a year, has funded half of Virginia's highway construction in the last decade, from the widening of Interstate 66 to car-pool lanes on Interstate 95, highway officials said.
Neither man was willing to commit state money to new projects. Instead, they are relying on an increased Virginia share of federal road money under a pending national highway act.
Staff writer Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.
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