HARDY, Va., Aug. 26 -- Wearing a loose-fitting black shirt and with a 12-gauge shotgun at his side, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Timothy M. Kaine emerged from a rolling field with several fellow skeet shooters and a message for Virginia's rural voters.
"I'm committed to not violating the Second Amendment or infringing upon the gun rights of law-abiding citizens," Kaine, the lieutenant governor, said to a handful of supporters and local reporters who were on hand to watch him shoot. "I'm committed to protecting that constitutional right to hunt and fish. . . . I value the traditions that Virginians value."
It was all part of the candidate's "Sportsmen for Kaine" kickoff, an effort to highlight Kaine's affinity for hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities. It was also an opportunity for Kaine to express solidarity with rural voters, who generally are strong supporters of the right to bear arms and were crucial to the electoral success of Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) in 2001.
The afternoon event, which was attended by local television journalists, other reporters and several members of Kaine's newly formed group, also provided for southwestern Virginia audiences images of an easygoing Kaine looking comfortable using a shotgun.
In anticipation of the event, which was held 15 miles east of Roanoke, campaign aides discussed Kaine's family vacations to the mountains for hiking and camping, his recent skeet shooting excursions with his two sons and his support of the Virginia constitutional amendment passed in 2000 to guarantee the right to hunt and fish -- all as ways to burnish the former mayor of Richmond's image as an outdoorsman.
"I'll put myself up against anyone who serves in public office when it comes to being an outdoorsman," Kaine said, somewhat jokingly, after he hit more than half his targets. He also highlighted his support for Project Exile, a joint federal, state and local program that helped cut Richmond's homicide rate by imposing tough federal sentences for gun crimes.
"You want to have a shooting contest? You want to go hiking? Give me a pocketknife and a set of matches and I'll go up against anybody," he said, standing behind an orange and black "Sportsmen for Tim Kaine" sign.
Kaine has visited the southwestern region more than two dozen times. He has also campaigned with his father-in-law, former governor A. Linwood Holton, a Republican who hails from the state's mountainous regions. Kaine plans to tour the region with Warner in the fall.
Kaine's Republican opponent, former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, who was born and raised in southwestern Virginia, did not waste any time responding to Kaine's event. His campaign sent out a scathing e-mail, saying that Kaine was anything but a friend to gun owners, highlighting Kaine's support for the Million Mom March in 2000, a rally in Washington that supported handgun control. In addition, the Kilgore campaign said Kaine wanted to tighten rules governing who could buy firearms at gun shows. Kaine has said he would support legislation tightening existing laws to help keep guns out of the hands of felons but would not actively pursue a law to achieve that goal.
"This is Tim Kaine's John Kerry moment," said Tim Murtaugh, Kilgore's press secretary, referring to the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate who went goose hunting in Ohio during the campaign -- an event that Republicans mocked as a political stunt. "The voters of rural Virginia will not be fooled by someone who is an ardent gun control advocate and was given an F rating by the NRA," Murtaugh said.
The NRA said Friday that Kaine's past positions on gun issues place him at odds with its members.
"It's no surprise that Tim Kaine is attempting to hide his anti-gun past from gun owners," said Chris W. Cox, the NRA's chief lobbyist, in an interview. He challenged Kaine's assertion that he was a leader in bringing Project Exile to Richmond.