Virginia Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester), who is running as an independent for governor, turned in 24,011 signatures to election officials Friday, declaring that "Virginians now have an opportunity to make history" in the November election.
The state requires 10,000 supporting signatures to get on the ballot. Potts noted that his count was 5,000 more than that of the Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who in April submitted petitions with 18,776 signatures. Potts said his total illustrated that his campaign was picking up steam and defying long odds.
Potts's signatures must be certified by elections officials before he officially joins the ballot.
"You know, a few months ago my opponents said that I wouldn't run, and I did," Potts told a handful of supporters at the State Board of Elections. "They said we wouldn't get on the ballot; today we are. The naysayers are saying we don't have a chance. Well, I'll tell you. . . . We're going to pull off the greatest political upset in the history of Virginia."
The likely GOP nominee, former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, who faces Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch in Tuesday's Republican primary, submitted 34,121 signatures in April. State election officials will now certify whether Potts's signatures are valid.
Potts, who has said that he would not rule out raising the gas tax for transportation projects and that he supports reinstituting the state's tax on cars, characterized himself as a moderate option between Kilgore and Kaine. He said that Kaine's opposition to the death penalty indicated that the Democrat is "too liberal" for Virginia voters and that Kilgore represented the "extreme right wing of the Republican Party . . . my Republican Party."
"Virginians are now free to choose an experienced moderate, not an extremist," said Potts, a former sports promoter.
The press secretaries for Kaine and Kilgore sought to characterize Potts as a problem for the other candidate. Kilgore spokesman Tim Murtaugh said Potts would take votes from Kaine.
"When voters who are interested in higher taxes go in to vote on November 8, they will have to have a long think about which high-tax candidate they like better, Tim Kaine or Russ Potts," said Murtaugh, referring to support of last year's tax increases by Potts and Kaine.
Kaine communications director Mo Elleithee said Potts's campaign would pose a problem for Kilgore by siphoning off GOP votes. "We're not going to get involved in the Republican problem," Elleithee said, declining to rebut Potts's criticism. "It's going to be an interesting race for us. We're going to be running against two Republicans."
Potts's challenge now turns to fundraising, where he is a distant third to Kaine and Kilgore. Potts, 66, had raised $421,151, with $180,000 on hand, as of June 1, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Kaine has raised nearly $10 million. And Kilgore reported raising $8.6 million.
Potts added that his petition drive indicates he should be a participant in the major candidate debates this summer.
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 said he would run as an "independent Republican" in the general election.