Caught right in the middle of the Tims -- television interrogator Russert on one side and Democratic gubernatorial opponent Kaine on the other -- Republican Jerry W. Kilgore seemed a bit beleaguered yesterday afternoon at the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce.
Kilgore anticipated the jabs from Kaine, who continually criticized him as a weak leader, a roadblock to Virginia's progress and -- about the worst thing Kaine can think to say about somebody -- no friend to popular Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner.
But the former attorney general did not foresee what Russert had in store. Kilgore is a staunch opponent of abortion who has said that he is against it except in cases of rape and incest or to save the life of the woman. But he has dodged questions about the next step, as Russert proposed, to say that if a newly composed Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, he would support an effort to outlaw abortion in Virginia.
"I'm a pro-life candidate who's running for governor," said Kilgore, adding that he would work "within the parameters" of Supreme Court decisions.
Russert tried again. But what if Roe were overturned? Yes or no?
"That's a hypothetical question," Kilgore responded.
Russert had another tactic. "If the Virginia legislature passed a tax increase, would you veto it or sign it?"
Kilgore looked surprised, then said, "I'd veto a tax increase that wasn't approved in a referendum."
Russert pounced: "That's a hypothetical question!"
The crowd roared, as Kilgore kept a straight face and gamely soldiered on, talking about taxes.
Everyone kept saying it wasn't Kilgore's crowd, this vast expanse of business suits that gathered at the Hilton in Tysons Corner, even if it sounds a bit odd to an outsider that "Republican" and "Chamber of Commerce" don't go together.
But four years ago, this group sent one of its own to Richmond when entrepreneur Warner broke the Republican hold on the governor's office. And neither Kilgore, the former attorney general who grew up in faraway Gate City, nor Kaine, the lieutenant governor who used to be mayor of Richmond, seems a natural fit.
Not that Kaine isn't trying. Kaine wears Warner's blessing like a suit jacket and rarely answers a question without mentioning the "Warner-Kaine administration." Never mind that the two men were elected separately and that the lieutenant governor in Virginia has few official duties except to preside when the Senate is in session.
It became too much for Kilgore at one point. "He broke ties in the Senate, folks," Kilgore said. "That's all he did!"
The crowd, the moderator, the panelists -- everyone in the place -- came looking for an answer to Northern Virginia's transportation morass and likely went away still looking.
Kilgore blithely says he will widen Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway and build another crossing at the Potomac but doesn't say how he will fund the projects or how he will salve the political tensions that have made those two of the region's most intractable issues.
Kaine doesn't really speak in specifics at all, either regarding projects or how he would raise more money for transportation. In response to a question about the state's role in funding a potential rail line to Dulles, Kaine said that he didn't know how many billions of dollars it would cost but that "it's going to be a bargain."
The man who could have livened up the transportation debate was sitting in the audience. Republican state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., who is running for governor as an independent, was barred from the debate after Kilgore said he wouldn't show up if Potts was on the stage. Potts has proposed spending $2 billion on road and rail projects, paid for by raising taxes on sales, cigarettes and income and adding a wide system of tolls.
Tuesday's debate was the second of three that Kilgore has accepted; the last will be Oct. 9 in Richmond. Kilgore, deeply tanned and carefully groomed, visited every table in the vast ballroom before the encounter and seemed more comfortable there than under the television lights.
Kaine, who is constantly badgering Kilgore to debate more, disappointed his supporters the first time out but was ready this time, aggressive and glib. Russert had a question for him, too: How could someone who says he is morally opposed to the death penalty promise to carry it out rather than try to convince Virginians that it is wrong?
"I am a Catholic. I'm against the death penalty and abortion," he said. "But I'm not going to spend my time fighting a quixotic battle that I can't win."
After the debate, Kaine hadn't had enough. He bounded off to a hot little room in the Hilton basement where Potts had accepted his invitation to spar over education. Somewhere, he might be talking still, probably about Mark Warner.