Democratic U.S. Sen. Barack Obama rallied state party stalwarts behind Virginia gubernatorial candidate Timothy M. Kaine (D) last night at a packed event aimed at energizing core party supporters during a traditionally slow period in the campaign for governor.
Obama, an Illinois senator considered a rising star in the national party, said in an interview that a victory for Kaine in Virginia's off-year election would be an important event for the national party and would "set a tone that Democrats can have a message of fiscal responsibility" but maintain funding for education. He has made similar appearances across the country for other Democratic candidates.
Obama, who rocketed to the national stage last year with an overwhelming election victory and a widely lauded speech at the Democratic National Convention, spent most of his remarks at Arlington's Clarendon Ballroom seeking to connect Kaine, Virginia's lieutenant governor, with the legacy of Gov. Mark R. Warner (D). Kaine thus far has tried to run a campaign largely centered in the political middle -- for example, supporting what he calls gun rights for law-abiding Virginians.
"You have a candidate that has exhibited [American] values each and every day," Obama told the crowd of about 1,000, highlighting Kaine's work as a missionary in Honduras and as a civil rights attorney. Referring to Virginia's 2004 tax plan that raised several taxes to fund education and public safety, he added: "Along with Mark Warner, [Kaine] has presided over the greatest success story," creating jobs and "making sure that services are provided."
The event had more of the feel of a rally than the usual midsummer fundraiser. Designed to be an accessible event for young Democrats, the event was jammed with twenty- and thirty-somethings and raised $50,000 for Kaine, according to Delacey Skinner, the campaign's press secretary. Tickets ranged from $35 to $500.
"If you need to lick envelopes, lick envelopes," Obama told the crowd. "If you need to make phone calls, make phone calls."
Toward the end of the event, he handed Kaine a $10,000 check from his political action committee. "We have somebody who's going to take Virginia forward," he said.
In a 10-minute address, Kaine stepped up his attacks on his opponent, former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, particularly on the Republican's stand on abortion. This week, Kaine's campaign has highlighted Kilgore's decision during the campaign's first official debate last week to sidestep a question about whether the Republican would support making abortion illegal if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Kaine and the state Democratic Party have pounced on the issue, saying that his lack of an answer reflects a lack of leadership.
Kilgore has said he opposes abortion except in the cases of rape, incest or a threat to the life of the mother.
"He wants to criminalize the health care decisions of women and their doctors," Kaine said. "We cannot afford to take Virginia backwards."
Kaine has said he is personally opposed to abortion but that he would support a woman's right to have an abortion in most circumstances.
In response, Kilgore's press secretary, Tim Murtaugh, said Kaine's remarks were "hypocritical." The GOP campaign has called Kaine "a traditional liberal Democrat."
"It was just five days ago in a debate that he lost that Kaine said, 'I am pro-life,' " Murtaugh said. "Now, he's reading from the pro-abortion playbook. This just proves you can't believe anything he says."
Kaine hit on other themes he highlighted during the debate as well, including Kilgore's opposition to last year's tax package. Kilgore has said he believes that the state's healthy economy provides enough money for increased educational funding.
During this phase of the campaign, a slow period for fundraising, the two major-party candidates are trying sustain both energy and fundraising prowess. The Virginia campaign is one of only two gubernatorial contests in the nation this year.
Kilgore is expected to raise $2 million tonight at a McLean event featuring President Bush. As of July 1, the men were nearly tied in total fundraising. Kilgore has raised $10.8 million, while Kaine has raised nearly $11.1 million.
State Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester) is running for governor as an independent, but Kaine and Kilgore have vastly outraised him. Potts had raised about $400,000 as of July 1.