THE HIGHLIGHT of yesterday's Virginia gubernatorial debate between Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the Democrat, and former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, the Republican, was brought to you by . . . Tim Russert, the moderator. Mr. Russert, an old hand at exposing political hypocrisy, nimbly exposed the pro-life Mr. Kilgore's double talk when the Republican dismissed as "hypothetical" a question on whether he would outlaw abortion in Virginia if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Well, said Mr. Russert, would Mr. Kilgore veto a tax increase? The candidate said he would. "That's a hypothetical question," Mr. Russert shot back. The luncheon audience of business leaders and politicians at a Tysons Corner hotel erupted in laughter.
Mr. Kilgore was not alone in dodging questions in yesterday's debate, sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and broadcast live in Northern Virginia on News Channel 8, a cable channel serving the area. Both candidates were asked repeatedly about their plans to ease traffic on Northern Virginia's clogged highways. Their answers, long on verbiage but short on formulas yielding more state revenue, will do little to reassure the region's drivers that help is on the way. Nor did either come prepared to answer a pointed post-Hurricane Katrina question about how he would evacuate Northern Virginia in an emergency.
It was particularly bizarre, though, to hear Mr. Kilgore, who opposed the 2004 tax increase that was the centerpiece of Gov. Mark R. Warner's administration, bash Mr. Kaine for having supported it. That tax increase (or "reform," as Mr. Kaine prefers to call it) has strengthened education across the commonwealth and is backed by a large majority of Virginia voters, particularly in Northern Virginia. By shrilly calling on Mr. Kaine to "admit" he favored tax increases that Virginians support, Mr. Kilgore suggested that he is out of touch with the state's voters. Mr. Kilgore's stand also contains a degree of hypocrisy. When asked if, as an ardent critic of the $1.5 billion tax increase, he would repeal it as governor, Mr. Kilgore demurred. "I'm not going to re-battle the past," he said. Nor does he ever talk about a significant cut he might make in the state budget. In other words, Mr. Kilgore is content to have it both ways -- to spend the $1.5 billion and to beat his opponent over the head for having raised it.
Mr. Kaine was clearly the more agile of the two candidates -- or perhaps we should say three; an hour after he debated Mr. Kilgore, Mr. Kaine gamely submitted to a second hour-long contest -- this one not televised -- with veteran state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (Winchester), a Republican running a long-shot campaign as an independent. (Mr. Kilgore has refused to debate Mr. Potts.) Unlike the major-party candidates, Mr. Potts has proposed an ambitious plan to funnel billions of dollars in new state funds to fix Virginia's transportation network. But his quirky persona and unpolished performance undercut the power of his ideas: At one point, Mr. Potts declared emphatically, "I talk the talk, I don't walk the walk!"