Virginia's two leading gubernatorial candidates, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R), raised virtually the same amount of money during the first six months of 2004, setting the stage for what many expect to be a fiercely competitive race for the state's top elected office next year.

Campaign finance reports released Thursday reveal that Kilgore raised about $1.25 million from Jan. 1 to June 30. Kaine raised $1.24 million during the same period.

Over the past two years, each campaign has raised about $3.3 million, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan organization that studies campaign finance data.

Both campaigns said the fundraising numbers illustrated the success of their efforts to rally support.

Both said they have made inroads with the business community. Many lawmakers and political observers have speculated that business leaders may be split between the candidates. Kilgore opposed the $1.5 billion tax package supported by many business groups during this year's General Assembly session, and Kaine advocated it.

"We're thrilled about where we are right about now," Kaine said in an interview. "We're getting an awesome response from the business community . . . but it's going to be a competitive race, I can guarantee that."

Kilgore said that the $1.25 million raised in six months represented the most that any Republican candidate has raised during a similar period leading up to an election and that his numbers proved that he, too, had success with business leaders.

"I am grateful for the enormous show of support from the Republican Party and business community in Virginia," he said in a statement. "I believe our message of creating new jobs . . . and not higher taxes is a message that resonates loudly within the business community."

Students of Virginia politics said they were impressed with Kaine's ability to keep pace will Kilgore, especially in a state where Republicans control the General Assembly as well as most of the delegation to Congress. They also pointed out that Kaine could benefit from the fundraising prowess of Gov. Mark R. Warner, a fellow Democrat who was able to raise $2 million during the same six-month period four years ago, largely by courting the Northern Virginia business community.

"This is good news for Kaine," said Larry Sabato, a professor of politics at the University of Virginia. "In the same way that many thought President Bush would out-raise and outspend his Democratic opponent 3 or 4 to 1, and it turns out he might not, Kilgore's campaign may have thought the same about his opponent. Doesn't look like it's going to be that way."

Republicans said Kilgore's efforts -- anchored by a $625,000 fundraising lunch in May -- were not to be taken lightly.

"This appears to be a clear sign that not everyone is rallying behind Tim Kaine's liberal high-tax agenda," Shawn Smith, spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia, said in an interview.

Kaine "was barely able to keep up" with Kilgore, Smith said.

The campaign finance records also pointed to the candidates' major sources of support.

Several of Kaine's largest donations came from Northern Virginia, including $100,000 from Sheila Johnson of Fauquier County, the former wife of BET founder Robert L. Johnson, according to an analysis done by the Virginia Public Access Project.

Other large donations to Kaine came from lawyers in suburban Washington.

Kilgore, a native of Virginia's southwest, received large donations from several downstate coal and tobacco companies, as well as from businessmen just across the Tennessee line.

But even as the campaigns claimed that the finance numbers showed organizational strength, experts in Virginia politics noted that the election was more than a year off. "It's still very early," said Mark Rozell a professor of government at Catholic University. "It's going to be a competitive race, but we'll have to wait and see what happens when both are introduced to the public as candidates."

Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore has support in southern Virginia.Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine is attracting Northern Virginia money.