Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore will face Democrat Timothy M. Kaine in the campaign's first televised debate Tuesday, days after a Washington Post poll showed Kilgore in the lead.
The pair will face off at 1 p.m. in a debate sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. At 3 p.m., Kaine will debate Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester), who is running as an independent, in a separate exchange that will not include Kilgore.
The debates at the Hilton hotel in Tysons Corner are the first major events of the post-Labor Day race to the Nov. 8 finish line. And they come amid signs that rhetoric from all three campaigns is sharpening.
The candidates and their aides predicted that the debates will be filled with pointed exchanges.
"I expect a very aggressive Tim Kaine. I expect a Tim Kaine who remains committed to putting out misleading information," Kilgore said Thursday as he announced a $1.5 million donation to his campaign from the Republican Governors Association.
"He'll be very prepared," Kilgore said. "He always is. He's a very slick debater."
Kaine press secretary Delacey Skinner shot back that her boss is ready for whatever Kilgore has to offer during the debate.
"We expect to see the same, tightly scripted Jerry Kilgore with the same distortions about Tim Kaine's record that he's been spewing all through the race," she said.
Potts joked that he expects to have "a lot of fun" debating Kaine. But at a news conference to unveil proposals for $2 billion in tax increases for transportation, Potts accused both Kaine and Kilgore of ducking responsibility.
"Jerry Kilgore offers denial and delusion," Potts said of the Republican's transportation plan. "Mr. Kaine: Delusion and deceit. That means nothing happens."
Previewing his often fiery language, Potts added: "Do nothing. That's the other two candidates. Zippo. The big goose egg. Nada. Zippo. Nothing. Their offense is worse than the Redskins."
The Kaine-Kilgore debate will be broadcast live by NewsChannel 8, starting at 12:45 p.m. The entire debate will be rebroadcast at 2 p.m. Sunday.
The Kaine-Potts debate will not be broadcast live, but viewers can watch it on NewsChannel 8 at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Direct exchanges between the candidates for governor have been rare this year. Kaine has pushed for more meetings, but Kilgore has resisted. The third and final debate between the pair is scheduled for Oct. 9 in Richmond.
Potts has struggled to get access to any of the debates. He was excluded from a July debate sponsored by the Virginia Bar Association and will not be allowed into the Richmond exchange unless polls show him receiving at least 15 percent of the vote. The Post poll, conducted last week, showed support for Potts at 5 percent among registered voters.
The poll showed Kilgore receiving 45 percent of the vote among registered voters, with Kaine receiving 41 percent. Kilgore's lead widened to 7 percentage points among likely voters.
Kilgore and Kaine spent the weekend prepping for their debate in mock sessions. Advisers said the debate's outcome could be important in shaping the rest of the campaign.
"Kaine's got to get more aggressive. He's got to take some chances and roll the dice," said University of Virginia Prof. Larry J. Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics. "He's going to come out of the box and rip into Kilgore."
Sabato and others had expected Kilgore to do poorly at the July bar association debate, but the former attorney general was more aggressive than Kaine and did not appear easily rattled.
This time, Kaine aides promised, the lieutenant governor will not sit back. They said he will repeatedly accuse Kilgore of wanting to turn the state back from the progress made under Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner.
"The question is: Do you want to see Virginia move forward or go back to a time of fiscal crisis and under-funding for education?" Skinner said.
Kilgore aides said he will not wither under pressure and will seek to portray Kaine as a liberal, tax-raising candidate whose views are out of the mainstream.
Campaign aides said they do not know what to expect from the Kaine-Potts debate, which is unprecedented in Virginia political history. Kaine proposed the debate after the chamber refused to let Potts into its traditional contest.
Potts is an unpredictable politician whose anger has so far largely been directed at Kilgore. But Sabato said that could be turned back at Kaine, too.
"Who knows?" he said.