Virginia Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who is running for governor, clasped hands Saturday with the two fellow Democrats who will run as his partners in the general election, a visible show of unity at a rally of the party's faithful.
Before a crowd of more than 400 people, Kaine promised to fight for better roads, health care and public safety. He pledged to work nonstop until the Nov. 8 election to fill the seat of Gov. Mark R. Warner (D).
He also continued to hammer his Republican opponent, former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore. He criticized Kilgore's opposition to last year's budget compromise and accused him of being afraid to debate his opponents.
"Jerry Kilgore does not know how to lead this Commonwealth," Kaine said. "No person who wants to be entrusted with the leadership of Virginia should be afraid to stand on a stage and answer questions, period."
Earlier in the day, Kaine walked door-to-door with his campaign volunteers in Northern Virginia. For about an hour, he made his pitch one voter at a time.
The meeting room at Kaine's campaign office in McLean was filled with volunteers and the smells of coffee and sunscreen. People in khaki shorts or jeans reviewed maps and lists of names and addresses as they prepared to head to the surrounding neighborhoods.
"We're in a tight fight," Kaine told the more than 80 volunteers. "We have to do extremely well in Northern Virginia." He added, "Let's put a flag right here."
The two events illustrate a challenge for Kaine and Kilgore: How much to run as a "ticket" in an election that is really three separate races.
Unlike the president and vice president, who are elected together, the candidates for Virginia's top offices are elected independently. That can -- and often has -- resulted in a governor of one party and a lieutenant governor or attorney general of the other major party.
But combining the resources of three campaigns often helps, especially when it comes time to turn out voters. And having candidates from different regions of the state can help build strength for everyone on the ticket. For the moment, both campaigns are embracing their running mates, who were nominated Tuesday in low-turnout primaries.
At the Williamsburg rally, Kaine said the combined political strength of the Democratic nominees would be a significant asset to the party as the campaign moves into high gear.
"What a great time to kick off this campaign as a ticket," he said. "We cannot let a ticket of progress be defeated by a ticket that wants to tear down what we have accomplished."
The other nominees promised the same. Former state senator and congresswoman Leslie L. Byrne, who was nominated for lieutenant governor, said she is proud to join the Kaine team, which includes Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath), the candidate for attorney general.
"The three of us are going to move Virginia forward," she pledged.
But Republicans said they intend to use the very unity that Democrats were celebrating Saturday to deny Kaine the state's top office.
GOP leaders promise to use Byrne's relatively liberal record against Kaine, who has said he is not the traditional liberal that Kilgore paints him as.
"The Democrat ticket for statewide office is the Howard Dean ticket that is out of the mainstream and out of touch with Virginians on every issue that matters to the voters," Republican Party Executive Director Shawn Smith said.
In the days since Republicans ended a costly battle for lieutenant governor and attorney general, the winners and GOP leaders have been declaring their intention to support a unified ticket.
"The ticket representing the Republican Party is the ticket of answers and of leaders," Republican members of Congress said in a joint statement.
Such comments prompted Democrats to declare that the GOP ticket is extreme and out of the mainstream of Virginia politics.
Early Saturday, Kaine stopped by a cul-de-sac off Federal Hills Drive in Falls Church, careful not to trample across residents' lawns as he knocked on doors of the attached brick townhouses. He was followed by an entourage of volunteers, photographers and reporters. He greeted the neighbors, "I'm Tim Kaine. I'm running for governor of Virginia."
He leaned against the door frame as he talked to Kristin Ruedel, 33, while her 10-month-old pulled on her T-shirt. She said she's a voter who values social programs and doesn't mind paying higher taxes. Kaine helped her fill out a volunteer contact form.
Twenty minutes later, he greeted some men in a parking lot outside a shopping center. "Me llamo Tim Kaine. Soy el candidato democrata para governador de Virginia," he told the men.
Kaine, who spent a year as a missionary in Honduras, asked the men what issues mattered to them. They talked about getting driver's licenses for immigrant workers and about finding help for day laborers who were not getting paid.
Later, at the Williamsburg rally, Kaine baked in the sun as Warner revved up the crowd.
"We surprised 'em four years ago. Are we going to surprise them again?" Warner asked. The crowd roared. "What we have today is the leadership team who will continue the progress we have made."