Virginia Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester), who is running for governor as an independent, on Friday lambasted GOP front-runner Jerry W. Kilgore and urged moderates and Democrats to vote for center-of-the-road Republicans in the party's open primary June 14.
Potts said he has already voted as an absentee for Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch, Kilgore's challenger, despite having major disagreements with him on taxes and spending. And he said he voted for Sean T. Connaughton, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, for lieutenant governor because his opponent, Sen. Bill Bolling (Hanover), represents "the most extreme wing of Virginia's Republican Party."
He also urged voters to reelect six GOP delegates who helped Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner pass a tax increase during the 2004 General Assembly.
"The mainstream, moderate Republicans have to act like the majority, because we are the majority," he said. "If I were governor, I would have campaigned all over the state for these brave individuals."
Always a thorn in the side of the GOP leadership, Potts once again criticized Kilgore for proposing that all state taxes be approved by referendum. "How do you spell referendum?" he asked a group of college students. "C-O-W-A-R-D."
Potts also took aim at Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who is unopposed for his party's nomination to be governor. Kaine has proposed allowing local governments to make 20 percent of a home's value tax-free. Potts said that would cost local governments $1 billion a year.
"I see two individuals who literally want to put a finger in the air and say, 'Which way is the wind blowing?' " Potts said.
Kilgore spokesman Tim Murtaugh characterized Potts as an "angry, bitter, spiteful man" who is pursuing a vendetta against Kilgore.
"The fact that he would vote in the Republican primary and openly boast about his selections proves that there is no principle at stake for him. It is strictly personal," Murtaugh said. "It's sad to see him ending his career this way."
In Virginia, primaries are open to anyone, but voters must decide beforehand which party's primary they will vote in. Virginians do not register to vote by party.
Kaine spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said the Democrat's proposal for tax relief is fiscally responsible because it would be optional for local governments. Kilgore has proposed a mandatory 5 percent cap on increases in homeowner assessments.
She said Kaine's policies are "based on the great progress that Virginia has made under the Warner-Kaine administration." She predicted Potts would rob votes from Kilgore, but added that "it would be a mistake to underestimate Russ Potts."
Randy Marcus, Bolling's campaign manager, said he is not concerned about the impact of Potts's comments.
"Senator Bolling is a mainstream conservative," Marcus said. "Russ Potts has left the party. Most Republicans aren't going to take his comments particularly to heart."
Potts jumped into the race for governor in February after declaring that none of the candidates was talking honestly about the state's fiscal challenges. He hired national strategists and said he would run as an "independent Republican" in the general election on Nov. 8.
That decision prompted howls of protest from Republican leaders, who voted to expel him from the party and tried to oust him from his position as chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee.
At the college class Friday, Potts told the students that taxes are likely to go up if they elect him to the state's top job.
"It's going to mean that every single Virginian is going to have to pay, yes," Potts said. "It's going to cost you."
Specifically, Potts said he would convene a commission to recommend a transportation construction plan, including taxes or fees that would have to be increased to pay for them. He said "everything will be on the table, including a gas tax" for a special session of the legislature to pass the commission's plan.
"We are going to have those senators and delegates stay there till the cows come home and they vote it up or down," Potts said.