About the time Democratic gubernatorial candidate Timothy M. Kaine stepped off the stage last night in Norfolk at his final campaign stop with Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner, Air Force One arrived at Richmond International Airport, where President Bush joined Republican candidate Jerry W. Kilgore for a get-out-the-vote rally.
Each candidate hoped the joint appearances would give him an edge going into today's voting in what polls show is a very tight race.
The Democratic governor, who leaves office in January because of the state's one-term limit, is riding a wave of popularity. The Republican president won Virginia by nine percentage points in last year's presidential election, but his popularity has slipped lately. Both campaigns insisted Bush's appearance would work to their advantage.
Air Force One, returning from a presidential visit to South America, rolled alongside a wide-open airport hangar filled with thousands of people, spotlights and U.S. flags as music from the movie "Air Force One" blared from giant speakers.
Bush and Kilgore stood side by side on a stage while the crowd serenaded them with wild screams for about two minutes. "I wish my grandparents could see this moment -- for a guy who grew up on a small farm in Southwest Virginia to be introducing the president of the United States," Kilgore said in brief remarks.
When Bush took the microphone, he said, "I know a man of character and of integrity, and he's standing right next to me, and that's Jerry Kilgore.
"The thing I like about this fella is he's from Virginia and he grew up on a farm," Bush continued. "That means he's a down-to-earth person. He doesn't have a lot of fancy airs, a person who knows how the common man thinks." Bush also urged the crowd to turn out other voters, saying, "It's your time."
When it's a close race, Kilgore had said earlier in the day, "it's [about] turnout, and he can bring out the base." The president "is very popular in Virginia. And he's coming off a successful South American trip," Kilgore said of Bush's overseas visit, which drew violent protests.
Warner, who was encouraged at campaign stops all weekend to run for president in 2008, said yesterday that "if the other side wants to make the comparison about how things are going in Washington and how things are going in Virginia, I'll take that comparison."
The Democrats called on Virginia voters to use the state election to tell Washington and the nation how they felt about the war in Iraq, the national economy and a host of other issues.
"We want to send the message . . . that this election is a rebuke to George Bush and all he stands for," Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) told a noontime rally in Alexandria with Warner and the entire state Democratic ticket.
Only Virginia and New Jersey pick their governors in the year after a presidential election. Virginia voters today will also pick a lieutenant governor and attorney general. And all 100 seats in the House of Delegates are on the ballots. Both parties expect the Republicans to maintain control of the House, but Democrats are hoping to cut into the GOP's 60-seat majority. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Kilgore, the former attorney general, split his last day of campaigning between rallying supporters and holding news conferences across the state. He greeted early morning commuters at the Vienna Metro station, then went on to stops in Norfolk, Roanoke and Abingdon.
In a news conference at Norfolk International Airport, Kilgore said he had no regrets about a governor's campaign that many Virginians have characterized to pollsters as nasty and devoid of ideas. Any nastiness, Kilgore said, was inevitable with "the two most philosophically different candidates that have ever run in Virginia."
Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), who campaigned with Kilgore again yesterday, said Kaine was trying to create a "masquerade" and that Kilgore was "the only candidate talking about transportation." Kilgore said Northern Virginia needs "more roads" to evacuate people in case of an emergency, and Allen added that "Jerry is the only one talking about widening I-66."
Allen twice emphasized Kilgore's unequivocal support of the death penalty and his promise to crack down on illegal immigrants.
Kaine, the lieutenant governor, started his day at a firehouse rally in Roanoke, where on a cold day in March he kicked off his bid to become the first Democrat to succeed a Democratic governor in 16 years. He told the crowd that "in the last four years, we've made dramatic progress" and "tomorrow we will celebrate four more years of great progress for this commonwealth."
He went on to the rally with about 500 supporters in Alexandria's Market Square, where he told voters that the election comes down to one question: "Who do we trust to keep Virginia moving forward?"
Kaine, who has proposed homeowner tax relief, universal preschool education and a plan to control development to ease traffic congestion, said Kilgore has failed to lay out a positive program. He criticized Kilgore's television ads, which have focused on such issues as the death penalty and illegal immigration in an effort to portray Kaine as too liberal.
"That kind of slash-and-burn campaigning turns into slash-and-burn governing," Kaine said.
Kaine later attended a homecoming gathering in Richmond, where he lives and served as mayor, before traveling to Norfolk for the final rally.
H. Russell Potts Jr., the Republican state senator from Winchester running a long-shot campaign for governor as an independent, spent yesterday greeting voters at the Vienna and West Falls Church Metro stops in the morning and in the Shenandoah Valley later in the day.
The candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general, locked in tight races of their own, also wrapped up campaigning.
State Sen. Bill Bolling (R-Hanover), who is running for lieutenant governor, traveled from his weekend events in the southwestern part of the state to rally with Kilgore and Bush in Richmond. Attorney general hopeful Robert F. McDonnell shook hands with workers at shipyards in Newport News before heading to the Bush rally.
Leslie L. Byrne, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, and state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds of Bath County, the party's attorney general candidate, campaigned with Warner and Kaine.
The State Board of Elections fined the Kilgore campaign $100 yesterday for sending a misleading mailing to Democratic voters. The mailing purports to be a "progressive, Democratic" voters guide comparing Potts and Kaine but actually was produced by the Kilgore camp. Last week, the board fined Kaine for producing a similar mailing that appeared to be from a conservative anti-tax group.
Staff writers Chris L. Jenkins and Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.
Independent candidate H. Russell Potts Jr., a GOP state senator, greeted voters at the Vienna and West Falls Church Metro stations yesterday.