The battle for the Virginia governor's mansion between Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) and Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) hasn't even officially begun. But a televised forum last week featuring both men offered a glimpse into the 2005 campaign.
The Charlottesville forum, broadcast Thursday night on local PBS stations, gave about 100 people the chance to question Kilgore, Kaine and two University of Virginia professors about national and economic security.
Several of the questions centered on tax policy, which is likely to be at the heart of the year-long campaign between Kaine and Kilgore. The two politicians were on opposite sides of the extended budget and tax debate that culminated in approval of a $1.5 billion tax increase during the 2004 General Assembly session.
Though not engaging each other directly, both men gave hints of how they will try to use the subject to their advantage next year.
Kilgore repeatedly linked the issue of taxes to jobs and the state's economic competitiveness around the globe. He said several times that tax cuts were necessary on the national and state level to spur small-business investment.
"In the future, we have to look at tax cuts as a great opportunity to encourage investment in Virginia, to encourage expansion of jobs and opportunity," Kilgore told the audience.
Kaine took pains to endorse the idea of tax cuts while adding a cautionary note. He said the urge for tax cuts must be balanced against the dangers of higher deficits and the demands for services from the state's residents.
"I love being part of tax cuts that then promote something good," Kaine said. "We ought to always look for ways to reduce taxes, and yet not at the cost of deficits or cuts to services."
Kaine also repeatedly stressed the idea that tax codes should be fair, a theme that Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) used successfully in arguing for his tax package this year. Kaine said he thought President Bush's tax cuts provided too much relief to the wealthy and too little to everyone else.
"There's real grounds for asking, is that fair?" Kaine said.
Kilgore quickly noted that there has been much criticism of the nation's economy under President Bush, even though the unemployment rate is no higher than it was when Bill Clinton was running for reelection as president in 1996.
"Let's be fair here," Kilgore urged the audience.
Both candidates also fielded questions about foreign policy and Iraq. With little time left before the presidential election, Kaine and Kilgore stuck to their party lines about national security.
Kilgore said he believes the country should not stray from the foreign policy path set by Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It's important that we support our troops, support the mission and just deal with this situation firmly, courageously and just get the job done and stop the infighting in this country," he said.
Kaine agreed that it would send "a horrible message" to "cut and run." But he said the nation needs a president who will build coalitions more than Bush has.
"We have to have someone as an executive who really values the alliances that we can forge with nations, even nations that may see things a little bit different than us. That will make us safer here at home," he said.
Kilgore, who is chairman of Bush's reelection campaign in Virginia, defended the president. He said the coalition fighting in Iraq includes Great Britain, Australia, Poland and 27 other nations.
"We are right to seek out other countries to help us," Kilgore said. "But if we have to go it alone in the future, we have to go it alone."