Watching Jerry Kilgore's latest TV ads in the Virginia governor's race, you might conclude that Tim Kaine is a Hitler lover and that Kilgore's idea of justice comes from the Taliban.

In the commonwealth where Thomas Jefferson and James Madison once debated the purpose of government, we now get to watch the tortured relatives of murder victims go on TV in new Kilgore ads that use every tacky trick in the book to knee Kaine in the groin.

The spots are devilishly well-made, from the soft lighting and weepy narrator to the tinkling piano music and Kilgore's simply beautiful eye blink of utter honesty. But their content is pernicious: "Tim Kaine voluntarily represented the person who murdered my son," the father of a murdered man says in one ad. This, we are supposed to believe, is a heinous act.

In the warped world of TV campaigning, we have one candidate for governor who doesn't believe in the American system of justice and another who coddles mass murderers.

From that same ad: "Tim Kaine says that Adolf Hitler doesn't qualify for the death penalty."

Here's what Kaine really said when the Richmond Times-Dispatch asked if people like Hitler should be executed:

"Well, you know. . . . God grants life and God should take it away. Do horrible, heinous things deserve incredible punishment? You bet."

Kaine talked about his religious opposition to taking a life, and exceptions such as self-defense and a just war. Pushed, he said terrible criminals "may deserve" death, but noted that "most nations have decided not to have a death penalty, and many are very safe."

Sorry, Jerry, but this was no Michael Dukakis moment, named for the 1988 presidential nominee who torpedoed his campaign by flatly remarking that he'd oppose the death penalty for someone who raped and murdered his wife. I'd want to tear apart such a thug, and I bet Kaine would, too.

But I'd also want the state to rise above my vengeful rage and stand for the principle that government is no murderer. I think that's what Kaine believes inside, but I can't report that as a fact because Kaine is playing games. He wants us to give him a bye because his convictions are grounded in his religion. People on both sides of this debate would grant Kaine and his Catholic faith great respect because there is a poetic consistency to the church's belief in protecting life from either the death penalty or abortion.

But Kaine doesn't stop there. No, he wants us to believe that in both cases, he can and would separate his personal beliefs from his pledge to uphold the law. He opposes abortion, but he'd enforce laws that allow it. He opposes the death penalty, but he'd sign death warrants and marshal legal resources to kill more capital convicts.

Kaine, a terrific lawyer, is well-versed in the art of arguing for that which you do not believe. But this makes no sense as a basis for election as governor. We elect people not only for their managerial skill, but for their moral and civic leadership. I want to vote for people who believe what they stand for and stand for what they believe in.

When John Kennedy said in the 1960 campaign that his first allegiance was to his country, not to the pope in Rome, he was allaying the fears of Protestants who incorrectly believed that Catholics mindlessly followed the Vatican's directives. Kaine is trying to wrap himself in Kennedy's glow, but this is a different issue. Many American Roman Catholics reject some of the church's teachings. If Kaine said, okay, here's where I differ with my church, most voters would accept that. Instead, he embraces those teachings in his heart, yet resolves to ignore them in his daily work. That's just too cynical.

Yet it is not even in the same realm of cynicism as Kilgore's spots. Few Virginians put the death penalty, abortion, guns or gay adoption even close to the top of their concerns, yet those issues are at the heart of Kilgore's campaign.

Here's what matters: Neither of these guys has any intention of attacking Northern Virginia's transportation mess. Neither will come clean about the need to raise and spend money.

So Virginians must choose: Insist that candidates speak to the issues that hit home, or sit back and enjoy Kilgore's spots as a fine example of the high art of the American cleverness industry, based on the bedrock belief that voters are dumb as stumps.

Join me at noon today

for "Potomac Confidential"at