Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) raised $625,000 for his 2005 gubernatorial campaign Monday while also reiterating his anti-tax stance as he prepares for an election that is 18 months away.
A luncheon crowd of more than 700 packed a hotel banquet room to support Kilgore's bid for the GOP nomination and to hear the keynote speaker, U.S. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), who later said the party should maintain its anti-tax orthodoxy, weeks after the state's Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a $1.5 billion tax increase.
"Some may believe that the only way to invest in Virginia is through increasing taxes. I respectfully disagree," Kilgore said in his five-minute speech. "As government leaders, we need to unleash the potential of individuals to make our commonwealth stronger."
Later, in an interview, Kilgore said he believes that the Virginia economy is growing and that it will surpass growth forecasts, ultimately showing the tax increases to be unnecessary.
Despite the harmony displayed Monday, Republican strategists and independent analysts said one challenge facing Kilgore is uniting a party that has been through a bruising four months as Republicans battled one another over how much money the state should raise to balance the budget.
"He's going to have to walk a fine line of trying to unite the party while there will likely be intra-party primary challenges against many who supported the tax plan this year," said Robert D. Holsworth, a professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies state politics.
Kilgore and Allen were cautious not to overtly denounce their fellow Republicans who pushed the tax plan, which raises money for education, public safety and health care. Both said they believe the party will weather any lingering resentment over the tax debate.
"I see the party coming together in the midst of the campaign as people come together around ideas and principles of the candidate," Allen said after his speech.
Holsworth added that another hurdle for Kilgore probably will be how the state's powerful business community, which largely supported the tax plan, responds to his anti-tax philosophy. Many local chambers of commerce, for instance, say more money is needed for transportation projects, which were not addressed in the new budget, and more taxes may be needed to fund roads and transit.
"There's a sentiment from some business leaders that more money is needed, and they know he has been resistant to taxes in the past," Holsworth said.
But others said it was unlikely that the business community would oppose Kilgore's candidacy.
"Large segments of the business community have lobbied Republicans for two elections to raise taxes," said Steve Haner, vice president of public policy for the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. "But now that they got most of what they wanted, I'm not so sure that they'll be asking for more. We'll have to see."
Either way, several lawmakers and potential candidates in next year's election expect the campaign to be a continued discussion about taxes and spending.
"This year's conversation over taxes will frame the discussion next year," said Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), Kilgore's likely opponent, who has announced his candidacy. "There will be the leaders who fought hard for investments and the naysayers who tried to block those solutions."
Kilgore agreed that the tax debate will be key, but he said other policy issues also will be important.
Kilgore, who has not officially announced his candidacy, is running as a law-and-order candidate and supported bills to toughen punishment for domestic violence, tighten regulations on abortion clinics and make killing a fetus a felony. In his brief speech Monday, he touched on some of those themes, which have been roundly supported by the state GOP.
Kaine has also tried to bolster some of his law-and-order credentials, supporting a bill this year to allow judges to sentence minors to a detention center after one misdemeanor firearms conviction instead of four. He also has supported funding for a new state university or college in Southside Virginia.