The bruising race to replace Virginia Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) neared its conclusion yesterday with the two candidates pressing the central messages of their campaigns before friendly audiences.
The final push began late last week for both Republican state Sen. Bill Bolling of Hanover County and Democrat Leslie L. Byrne, a former congresswoman from Fairfax, who campaigned back and forth across the commonwealth.
Byrne, the only Northern Virginian running statewide this year, toured with Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) and the rest of the Democratic ticket. Bolling also traveled with his running mates, gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore and Del. Robert F. McDonnell of Virginia Beach, who is running for attorney general.
Speaking to an exuberant crowd in Alexandria, with gubernatorial hopeful Kaine and attorney general candidate R. Creigh Deeds, Byrne said that Republicans have been engaged in the "politics of division." Echoing the Democratic message, she said the Republican ticket has been unwilling to address pocketbook issues that concern Virginians, including education and health care.
"This race is about having a future for our children and our grandchildren," she said to several hundred supporters in Old Town Alexandria's Market Square. "Everywhere we go in Virginia, the families of Virginia want basically the same thing. That's what scares Republicans."
Bolling was scheduled to join Kilgore and President Bush at the Richmond airport last night for a rally of party stalwarts. Over the weekend, Bolling emphasized the theme he has made central to his campaign: Byrne is "too extreme" and "liberal" for Virginia.
"Our opponents have a very different vision of the future on issue after issue, and we are right, and they are wrong," Bolling told a few hundred people Saturday morning in Springfield. Later, in Newport News, he said of his opponent and her running mates: "They are trying to perpetrate a fraud on the people of Virginia, as if they were conservative. They're not conservative."
The contest between Bolling and Byrne, which at first garnered only a sliver of voter attention, has picked up interest in the past six weeks, with the candidates engaging in a pair of tense debates and a sharp television and radio ad war.
A recent Byrne ad has shown Bolling as a bobblehead doll as a voice says: "Trust Bill Bolling? Bolling says he didn't know about shady financial dealings at the now-bankrupt insurance company where he served as a high-paid executive."
The ad is a reference to Bolling's employment with the Reciprocal Group, an insurance company that went bankrupt in 2003 after a fraud investigation involving the company's top executives. He has called Byrne's ads "unfounded negative attacks." He was not named in any lawsuits, and his campaign has released letters from the U.S. attorney's office and the state commissioner of insurance stating that he played no role in the case.
The Republican has responded with his own tough ads the past several weeks, taking aim at Byrne's record and depicting her as an "out-of-touch liberal." He has accused Byrne of wanting to give public services to illegal immigrants and taking "reckless" positions.
Although the job of lieutenant governor is the largely ceremonial one of overseeing the state Senate, Byrne and Bolling have outlined ambitious platforms during this campaign. Bolling, 48, says he wants to increase funding for higher education and transportation with revenue generated by a healthy state economy. He has established himself as part of the anti-tax movement in the generally moderate state Senate and says his spending initiatives can be accomplished without new taxes.
Byrne, 59, who says she supports Warner's tax package from last year, has talked up her support for more resources for vocational education in high schools and Head Start, the preschool program for poor children. She has also discussed a plan for less-expensive health insurance for small businesses.
Staff writers Timothy Dwyer and Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.