Virginia's three gubernatorial candidates bounded through this Shenandoah Valley town's annual Labor Day parade Monday, offering hearty handshakes and wide smiles to the crowd along Magnolia Avenue as well as fervid speeches that forecast the themes they hope will carry them to victory.
The Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, walked -- then practically ran -- beside Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), a veteran of the holiday festival that for decades has marked the start of the fall campaign. Kaine has linked his candidacy to the administration of the popular governor, promising voters a moderate, business-like government.
Republican nominee Jerry W. Kilgore, the former attorney general who has said Kaine is too liberal for Virginians, rallied his orange-clad supporters with a call to embrace "conservative values from the Cumberland Gap to Tangier Island." He walked the route briskly, at one point high-fiving a supporter who held a "Welcome to Kilgore Country" sign above her head.
H. Russell Potts Jr., the Republican state senator from Winchester running for governor as an independent, campaigned with the sleeves of his oxford shirt rolled up, promising he would tackle the state's "abysmal" transportation network and imploring onlookers to give his campaign a chance.
"This is an underdog town," he said of Buena Vista, a hamlet of about 6,500 near Lexington at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. "They like the idea of pulling off the biggest upset in the history of Virginia politics. That's just what we're going to do."
As in previous years the streets of the town and nearly all roads leading to it were cluttered with campaign signs. Such displays are a mark of campaign pride, and some say organizational strength. But this year, only Kaine's blue signs and red Potts placards were visible. Kilgore decided to withhold his placards and said he donated the approximate cost to victims of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf.
The Buena Vista parade was one of several events during a busy day for the gubernatorial candidates, who were accompanied by the contenders for lieutenant governor and attorney general as well. After leaving town, they traveled to Covington, a small city 50 miles away, for a second parade, where they marched with fire engines and bands along East Riverside Drive.
After an hour-long flight, Kaine, Warner and the rest of the Democratic candidates gathered with hundreds of party loyalists at a backyard picnic overlooking the James River in Newport News. Hosted by U.S. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D), the picnic is an annual must-do for Democratic hopefuls.
"Do we keep Virginia moving forward?" Warner asked the crowd. "Do we finish the job? Or do we make a giant U-turn?"
The Buena Vista parade is a rite of fall in a state that has a major election every November. The marchers wind past the old and the new of Magnolia Avenue: the Grizzly Archery Supplies and TNT Motor Sports, the brick VFW Post and a collection of small country diners. Monday's paraders passed a sign proclaiming, "Coming soon: Millennium Tattoo Piercing Arcade."
The lighthearted campaigning along the parade route preceded some tough speeches delivered from a bandstand in Glen Maury Park before a crowd of residents and campaign workers.
Kaine referred to the Warner administration's efforts to improve the state's finances and increase spending on education and other services.
"We have come too far to turn around and go backward," Kaine said. Referring to the 2004 tax and spending plan that Kilgore and many Republicans opposed, he added: "The opposing team stood against Governor Warner and I . . . to invest in our schools and colleges. They stood against us when we wanted to put more funds into health care . . . or when we wanted to invest in transportation."
Kilgore said that the Democrat's positions are part of an election-year remake that masks a liberal record. He has consistently challenged Kaine's association with Warner's centrist positions on the death penalty and gun rights. And he took both men to task for their support for last year's tax increases.
"I am proud to have stood against the largest tax increase in Virginia history," Kilgore said. "I am proud to stand with sportsmen and protect our Second Amendment rights . . . something my opponent will not do. I am proud to be a supporter of the death penalty, something my opponent has worked against time and time again."
Potts said he is hoping to quickly draw attention to his long-shot campaign. He said he has raised nearly $1 million and will be advertising on television soon. In an energetic speech, he touted his support for the tax and spending increases and called on voters to help him fund the state's transportation network and other "core services."
"Shame on anyone who turns their back on Virginia and the core services that we so badly need," Potts said. "The fact remains that the transportation network that is the oldest, the most decrepit, the most run-down . . . is Virginia's. And we're going to fix it. And the only way we're going to fix it is through investment."
Fred Roscher, 43, an electrician from nearby Natural Bridge, brought his wife, Lorrie, 42, and 21-month-old daughter, Maggie Ann, to sit along the parade route.
"You're in Republican country, buddy. They have the same values that we do," Roscher said.
He said he is certain he will vote for Kilgore on Nov. 8 and, echoing a Republican theme, he complained about taxes.
"They tax us for every tool, every computer, every you name it."
Hazel Moore, 73, said she is voting for Kilgore because "I think he's the right man. I don't think he's for raising taxes. . . . And his morals. Mainly his morals."
Several onlookers said they believe Kaine is trying to seek a balance on several social issues, and they like that.
Michael Tschantz, 36, an engineer from Lexington, stood on the side of the parade with his children, Wiley, 1, Lucy, 4, and Hank, 2. On his shirt was a sticker for Del. Ben L. Cline (Amherst), the conservative Republican who represents the Buena Vista area. But Tschantz said he will support Kaine for governor.
"I didn't like Kilgore's comments on his enthusiasm for the death penalty," Tschantz said, referring to Kilgore's proposals to expand the scope of the death penalty. "Tim Kaine seems a little bit more reasonable."
Tschantz added that "Warner's quite successful, so you'd think that [Kaine] would do the same."
Several bystanders from the area said that they were still getting to know Potts. But one said she was already a fan.
"Anyone who can take on the big boys and talk about real stuff is someone I'm going to consider," said Emily Frend, 29, a hairstylist from Lexington. She stood next to a sign that read: "Warner in 2008. He got the state out of the RED."
After seeing Potts motor up and down the street, she added: "I hope he doesn't run out of energy."