-- Virginia gubernatorial candidates Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, and H. Russell Potts Jr., an independent, said Tuesday that they will debate each other immediately after a scheduled debate next month between Kaine and GOP nominee Jerry W. Kilgore.
The Kaine campaign then invited Kilgore to join their debate. But the former attorney general declined. The Republican has said he will not debate Potts unless the independent candidate reaches 15 percent in two statewide polls between now and October. Recent polls show Potts at 9 percent.
The debate between Kilgore and Kaine will be hosted by the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce in mid-September. The chamber has said it will not include Potts because of its long-standing policy of including only the major-party candidates.
The debate about debates -- how many to have and who should participate -- has been a contentious one. Kaine, the lieutenant governor, has called for more debates. Potts, a Republican senator from Winchester, has criticized Kilgore for refusing to debate him. Kilgore has said that the three scheduled debates -- the standard for Virginia's governor's races -- are plenty.
Last week, 15 former chairmen of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce urged the organization to include Potts, hoping to give the feisty lawmaker a broader platform.
One debate has been held; another, sponsored by the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, is scheduled for October in Richmond. Potts could participate in that one if he reaches the 15 percent threshold.
Kaine's and Potts's campaigns said Tuesday that they want to offer Virginians another opportunity to see all three candidates debate. The details of the post-debate debate have yet to be worked out. Officials for both campaigns said they are still looking for a sponsor and a venue and hope that it will be televised.
"This gives Virginians a chance to hear all of the gubernatorial candidates discuss the issues side by side," said Kaine's press secretary, Delacey Skinner. "Jerry Kilgore has unfortunately decided not to accept, but we would still encourage him to come and watch."
Potts has said that because he submitted more than enough signatures to win a place on the Nov. 8 ballot, he has earned the right to participate in the debates.
"Here's another opportunity for Jerry Kilgore to debate all the candidates," said Mike McCall, press secretary for Potts. Referring to Kilgore, he added, "We're very disappointed that he has once again chosen not to debate Russ about the issues that concern all Virginians."
Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Kilgore, said Kilgore declined the invitation because he has campaign plans. Murtaugh also challenged Kaine's request for additional forums.
"Never before in Virginia history has a candidate been so preoccupied with debates," Murtaugh said. "If he had some positive issues, maybe he wouldn't be yammering away on the issues of debates when there are two others already scheduled."
William D. Lecos, chief executive of the chamber, said that he was aware of Kaine's and Potts's plans but that the business group would not revisit the issue. Lecos said the chamber followed its 14-year tradition of inviting only the candidates for governor who had received their party nominations. He called the forum planned by Kaine and Potts a "publicity stunt."
"This has been addressed. . . . At this point, it's too far down the road to make any changes," Lecos said.
"The chamber has some fairly explicit procedures for reviewing these things."