Thousands of out-of-state Republicans are scheduled to conduct a telephone blitz of Virginia on Saturday, part of a first-of-its-kind effort by the Republican National Committee to recruit volunteers on behalf of gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore.
With no statewide or federal elections in 48 states this year, the RNC has decided to put its activists to work.
Volunteers at call centers in 22 states will make calls to Virginia and New Jersey, the two states that will choose governors in November. In addition, more than 7,000 Republican activists responded to an e-mail from RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman and said they are willing to make calls to Virginia from their home phones or cell phones.
Mehlman's e-mail and the RNC effort are an indication of the stakes in the Virginia election. Republicans across the country have poured millions into the effort to defeat Democrat Timothy M. Kaine and independent H. Russell Potts Jr.
"Our party is like a family. And when a family member like Jerry needs our help, we all pitch in," Mehlman said in the e-mail. "Virginia sent busloads of volunteers to battleground states to help elect Republicans in 2004 and we need to return the favor in 2005."
"It's simple to help," Mehlman wrote. "We're asking you to make just 30 phone calls. Your phone calls to Republican voters in Virginia will remind them of the upcoming election, and the importance of voting for Jerry."
Kaine spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said the Democratic campaign is "not worried about" the Republican effort.
"It's amusing, coming from the campaign that made so much noise about out-of-state support for the Kaine campaign," she said. Kilgore operatives have said Kaine has hired out-of-state activists to put up signs at events.
Skinner said that while the RNC calls are being made, Kaine will be greeting Virginia voters at an Ashland coffeehouse and giving a speech about the environment.
The Republican activists, virtually none of whom have met Kilgore, will be armed with a brief script telling them what to say and a list of phone numbers to call, RNC officials said.
The idea, said spokesman Aaron Mclear, is to whip up support for Kilgore among Virginia's GOP supporters. "In other parts of the country, it's important to elect Jerry Kilgore," Mclear said, indicating the significance to the party of claiming another governorship.
On Friday, the candidates for governor engaged in more traditional campaigning -- Kilgore, Kaine and Potts campaigned at the Virginia State Fair in Richmond. Potts, a Republican state senator representing Winchester, is running for governor as an independent.
Kaine spent an hour shaking hands with fairgoers alongside Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), who chowed down on corn dogs, fried Oreo cookies, french fries and four different samples of homemade pie. The two Democrats passed up an opportunity to ride a mechanical bucking bull.
"This is Tim Kaine, who I hope will be the next governor," Warner said to Carl Henshaw, 78, and his wife, Lynne, 67, who had come to the state fair from Buckingham, Va.
The Henshaws said they are Republicans but think Warner has been successful. Asked whether Warner's endorsement would influence their vote Nov. 8, they said it might.
"I would look at him seriously," Carl Henshaw said of Kaine. "I don't say it would convince me, but I'd look at him seriously."
All three candidates participated in an agricultural forum sponsored by several farm groups.
Kilgore vowed to permanently end the estate tax in Virginia, a position heartily supported by the state's farmers.
"I'm not going to just support some watered-down, weakened version of the estate tax, like my opponent," Kilgore said. "We've got to do away with it now. Death should not be a taxable event."
Kaine also promised to phase out the estate tax and proposed new tax credits for the production of biodiesel fuels. Potts talked mostly about the importance of improving the transportation network for the future of farming.
"I emphasized that transportation had to be their biggest issue, because they have to move their goods and produce," Potts said.