A sea of orange surrounds Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore wherever he goes.
It is his volunteer entourage: supporters dressed in bright-orange T-shirts that read "KILGORE - GOVERNOR." As he waded through the crowd at Richmond's annual Greek Festival last week, they morphed around him, visually blaring their message to hundreds of souvlaki-eating potential voters.
"Wait, let me get you with my camera phone," said Angela Gibson, 32, as Kilgore passed by. He smiled broadly as the Richmond hairstylist declared: "The next governor!"
Then the orange crush moved on, Kilgore at its center.
His campaign is like that: an electoral behemoth whose only goal for Tuesday's primary is to shed itself of upstart George B. Fitch, the mayor of Warrenton, and look forward to defeating the Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, on Nov. 8.
For more than three months, Kilgore's team has virtually ignored Fitch. It has raised nearly $8.5 million and built a campaign staff of dozens, supplemented by thousands of active volunteers. The operation is overseen by "HANC," an acronym for the four top campaign aides: Ken Hutcheson, Ray Allen, Chris Nolen and Joey Carico.
"I just have to win," Kilgore, a lifelong fan of college basketball, said of the primary. "It doesn't matter if you win by 2 points or 30 points -- you are going on to the next round. We are going on to the next round."
Mark J. Rozell, a George Mason University politics professor, said that Kilgore is in a dominating position to do that, having outraised Fitch by more than 40 to 1. But he said primaries are unpredictable because so few people turn out to vote. A few thousand votes one way or the other can mean a lot.
"If Fitch were to pull a quarter of the vote, everybody would be shocked, and that would signal a real weakness in Kilgore's candidacy," Rozell said. "That's the real challenge for Kilgore here. He does need to [make sure] no one can doubt his candidacy."
Kilgore said he's not worried. He called Fitch "a nice man" and said he's looking forward to "winning his support in this campaign." In an interview this week, Kilgore said he's focused on telling voters across the state what he will do to improve education, transportation and economic development.
He called education his "top priority" and said his plan to create a statewide merit pay system for teachers will improve the quality of schools.
Kilgore is also continuing to push his plans to require voter referendums before any new statewide or regional tax increases may take effect.
"I'm the only candidate that trusts the people," Kilgore said. "I trust the people on taxes. I trust the people on transportation. My general election opponent doesn't."
Fitch has become increasingly aggressive in his statements about Kilgore in recent days. In an interview this week, Fitch said Virginia Republicans "don't want to be spoon-fed a handpicked candidate."
But most of the criticism of Kilgore has come from Kaine, who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said Thursday that Kilgore has "stood in opposition" to progress made by Kaine and Gov. Mark R. Warner (D).
"Mark Warner and Tim Kaine have showed very strong leadership and moved Virginia out of a fiscal crisis to being the best-managed state in the nation," Skinner said. On public education, she said, Kilgore has "had plenty of opportunities to prove that he can be a leader in that area, and he just isn't."
As the primary approaches, Kilgore's campaign has become far more aggressive, too.
His campaign has criticized Kaine for his stands on capital punishment, guns, abortion and taxes. A television ad paid for by the Republican Governors Association accused Kaine of being hypocritical about homeowner taxes, and just this week, a radio ad accused the Democrat of wanting to sue gun manufacturers, which Kaine's campaign vigorously denies.
With less than a week left before the primary, Kilgore has picked up the endorsements of the National Rifle Association and the Virginia Society for Human Life.
Like both Kaine and Fitch, Kilgore has zigzagged across the state, attending one public gathering after another. He said it is his favorite part of campaigning.
And he said he's lost weight on the election trail, despite being a self-described "dessert freak."
"Travel with me," he said at the Greek Festival, eyeing some baklava hungrily, "and you'll stop at every Dairy Queen. It's what I live for."