After we'd all listened to the men who would be governor of Virginia promise to widen Interstate 66, build a new bridge across the Potomac and get traffic moving, I asked a dozen of Northern Virginia's corporate and civic leaders what would happen in the next decade.
"Nothing." "None of it." "They won't build a thing." "Stalemate." "More of the same." "Nada."
And many of those I spoke with support, even contribute to, the campaigns of Republican Jerry Kilgore or Democrat Tim Kaine.
So much for the credibility of the K-men.
This week's debate before the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce inspired no one. Kilgore, easily rattled by totally predictable questions, resorted again and again to the same handful of attacks on his opponent, the lieutenant governor: Kaine loves to raise taxes, "always has, always will"; Kaine got a grade of C-plus from some magazine for his work as mayor of Richmond. Or was it a C-minus? Three times, Kilgore said one of those grades, twice the other. But who's counting?
Kaine, for his part, slammed the state's former attorney general as someone who would criminalize abortion and starve schools and colleges.
This is the best talent the great state of Virginia can come up with?
Many in the packed crowd at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner wondered why there was no one with the smarts of Mark Warner or the spine of George Allen on stage. But when I told state Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) that many people were unfavorably comparing Kaine and Kilgore with the outgoing governor, she reminded me that the Mark Warner of four years ago was hardly the smooth operator who is riding off on sky-high ratings and considering a race for the presidency. True enough, candidate Warner won despite a jittery, halting manner that included an awkward pause after every question while he figured out just who might like each possible response.
The K-men don't have that problem. Kilgore steers every answer right back to the same message points: Kaine is tax-loving, two-faced and too tied to Warner and his 2004 tax increase.
Kaine riffs repeatedly about how his opponent is all about unfunded plans, while he is about results, whatever that means. (On taxes, Kaine skirts but never quite crosses the Mondale Line, named for the last major presidential candidate who dared suggest higher taxes so government could pay its way.)
These guys are so prepackaged that you want to inspect to see whether they're still in shrink wrap. No matter what questions came their way in the debate, the candidates stuck to taxes and personality. Kilgore, you'll be pleased to know, is "a leader." Kaine, who, as we've seen, is about "results," could barely go a minute without lunging for Warner's coattails ("Mark and I . . . ," "Mark Warner and I . . . ," "the Warner-Kaine administration . . .").
They simply have no time for the issues that keep Virginians awake at night. Ask about evacuation plans in the event of a disaster or terrorist attack, and they ignore the question. "I'll be that leader," Kilgore said. Kaine somehow took the question as occasion to express support for extending Metrorail to Dulles Airport.
The importance of state government stares us in the face with every ghastly report from Hurricane Katrina's back yard. But ask these guys about poverty, and you get generalities about transportation infrastructure.
The third candidate in the race, independent Russ Potts, a Republican state senator from Winchester, wanted to be the Jesse Ventura/Arnold Schwarzenegger of this campaign, the outsider who speaks plainly to the people. But he comes off more as its Bob Dole, mired inside years of legislative minutiae, incomprehensible to the average voter.
Katrina, 9/11, the war in Iraq, strained schools, skyrocketing college costs, rising gang violence, frightening gas prices -- if the candidates for governor address these issues, it is largely to promise "results" and forswear taxes.
Oh, and Kilgore would have the state kill more criminals to take care of the gang problem.
Kaine, meanwhile, is "against the death penalty, but I will uphold the laws of Virginia." And Kilgore is "for a culture of life," but won't say whether he'd sign a bill outlawing abortion.
What men of conviction. Mr. Jefferson averts his eyes.
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