Democratic gubernatorial candidate Timothy M. Kaine campaigned across southwest and Southside Virginia on Saturday, looking for votes at sizzling summertime festivals in his Republican opponent's home territory.
The hunt for support began at the Pioneer Restaurant in Marion, where about 50 people gathered for Kaine's town-hall style of campaigning. Using a PowerPoint presentation and sounding at times like a budget analyst, Kaine promised to follow in the footsteps of Gov. Mark R. Warner (D).
Less than two hours later, the former Richmond mayor found himself at Patrick County's Virginia Peach Festival, taking refuge from the heat at The Coffee Break diner in downtown Stuart. He once again embraced Warner's popularity.
"Warner and I have worked hard these last four years," Kaine told a dozen people gathered at the tiny restaurant, which serves 14 varieties of pancakes. "We've reformed the budget to invest historic amounts of money in public schools."
In the evening, Kaine joined his opponents -- Republican Jerry W. Kilgore and Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester), who is running as an independent -- at the Old Fiddler's Convention, in Galax, an event that draws banjo players from around the world and politicians from across the commonwealth.
For Kaine, appealing to rural Virginia offers both a challenge and an opportunity.
The region is usually thought to be unfriendly -- if not downright hostile -- to Democrats. The rolling green hills are populated by conservative folks who appreciate guns, worship regularly and have a somewhat slower lifestyle than their suburban counterparts.
To top it off, Kilgore is from here. More than a few residents have the same Tennessee twang that marks Gate City as the former attorney general's home town. When the returns roll in Nov. 8, conventional wisdom says, everything south and west of Roanoke should be painted a deep shade of red for Republicans.
"It'll be tough, with Kilgore from here," said Bill Lemmon, 81, a former Democratic state delegate from Smyth County, who came to see Kaine in Marion. "These people are an amazing people. [But] they aren't as urbane, if you will, as people in Northern Virginia."
But a successful "southwest strategy" for Kaine is not an all-or-nothing prospect. If the Democrat can whittle away at Kilgore's margins, it could help give him the statewide edge he needs.
And he's not giving up. With help from his father-in-law, former Republican governor A. Linwood Holton, a native of Big Stone Gap, Kaine is betting that he can appeal to rural Virginians. Holton, 81, traveled in the caravan with Kaine, Kaine's wife, Anne, and Kaine's daughter, Annella, 10.
Annella, who stole the show in one of Kaine's early television ads, sat quietly reading the latest Harry Potter book while her father pressed the flesh. With a wink of his right eye and the phrase, "Can I say a quick hey?" Kaine shook every hand he could.
Some welcomed the Democrat. Al Brammer, chairman of the Patrick County Democratic Committee, said to the crowd at The Coffee Break, "We don't want to go back to the Gilmore days," a reference to the Republican administration of James S. Gilmore III, whom Warner succeeded.
Others were less charitable. Mylinda Davis Dalton, 46, of Pulaski, denounced all politicians from both parties for failing to help the region's economy.
"Politicians are politicians," she said, later telling Kaine that he will have to work hard to earn her vote. She said she won't vote for him "until he brings viable jobs to this area."
Kilgore's aides say they are not worried. They say the region is rock-solid for the GOP ticket despite Kaine's best efforts. And they predict that Democrats will stop campaigning here soon to focus their energy on Northern and central Virginia, often considered more liberal parts of the state.
"Tim Kaine is just wrong on the issues for people in rural Virginia," said Kilgore spokesman Tim Murtaugh.
He said Kaine wants to put restrictions on guns, supports abortion rights and backed the state tax increases approved in 2004: "He is a gun-control candidate. People know that. He is running as a pro-choice candidate. People know that. And he raised their taxes, and people know that."