Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine (D) said yesterday that he will immediately begin a series of town hall meetings across Virginia to rally public support for a legislative battle next year over fixing the state's transportation problems.
A day after his victory over Republican Jerry W. Kilgore, Kaine savored the latest Democratic win in a state known for its fidelity to the GOP in recent years. At a morning news conference in Richmond, he declared that voters had rejected the Kilgore campaign's attacks on his record.
"The negative ads backfired," he said. "If there's anything about this win that makes me feel the best, it's that Virginians rejected the harsh negatives that were often factual mistakes. They're smarter than high-paid consultants, and they know the difference between truth and fiction."
After breakfast with his family and a stop at his newly minted transition office, Kaine attended a noon Mass. He then stopped by his campaign office to offer thanks to staff and volunteers. In the afternoon, he appeared on MSNBC's "Hardball" with Chris Matthews.
Kaine fielded calls throughout the day from well-wishers, including bluegrass star Ralph Stanley, a supporter. Kaine placed a call to House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), who is likely to emerge as one of Kaine's chief political rivals.
As he began the process of assembling a cabinet, Kaine said he plans to tour the state, stopping first in Manassas next week. As a candidate, he called traffic congestion on the state's roads a "crisis" and vowed to convene meetings with average people and transportation experts to discuss solutions.
"We must ensure that taxpayer dollars marked for transportation are only used for transportation, and we must better connect land use and transportation planning," Kaine said at a news conference at the Marriott Hotel in Richmond, where he had addressed jubilant supporters 11 hours earlier at a victory celebration.
"Without taking these first crucial steps, we cannot move Virginia forward on transportation," Kaine told reporters.
Shortly after his inauguration Jan. 14, Kaine could find himself in the middle of a legislative struggle over proposals to raise taxes to support transportation projects.
In the race for attorney general, one of the closest statewide contests in Virginia history, Republican Robert F. McDonnell led Democrat R. Creigh Deeds by 1,480 votes out of 1.9 million cast. Some localities were still counting absentee ballots, and others were tweaking results as they discovered errors, state election officials said.
Although McDonnell claimed victory yesterday, Deeds said he will ask for a recount and named a team of lawyers to lead that effort.
In Tuesday's other statewide race, state Sen. William T. "Bill" Bolling (R-Hanover) won his race to replace Kaine as lieutenant governor.
In the House of Delegates, Democrats picked up one seat, bringing their total to 39 of 100 members. Democratic leaders called several victories historic. "We have won races in all areas of the commonwealth, areas that were once believed to be solid Republican strongholds," said Minority Leader Franklin P. Hall (D-Richmond).
Howell, who had campaigned tirelessly for GOP candidates, said the results could have been much worse. "Given the perfect storm that happened at the statewide level, we did well to hold our losses to two seats," Howell said, including what appears to be a narrow loss to an independent candidate.
Howell said he still has 58 GOP delegates and two independents who often cooperate with Republicans. "We're still going to drive the agenda in the House," he said
At his news conference, Kaine repeated a pledge to veto tax increases for transportation projects unless steps are taken to make sure that the money is not diverted to other uses. But he made clear that finding a better way to plan and finance the transportation network will be his first priority.
Kaine said he would hold at least five town hall meetings beginning next week. Besides Manassas, the meetings will be in Roanoke, Bristol, Newport News and Henrico County.
He also said that he supported plans to widen outbound Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway and that he would appoint professionals to advise officials on how best to extend public transit to the Dulles International Airport area.
A state Senate commission is developing a wide-ranging proposal that could include raising billions of dollars for transportation. Meanwhile, Republicans in the House of Delegates have reiterated opposition to increased taxes, saying the state's budget surplus and privatization should provide enough financing.
The transportation debate, which leaders in both chambers predict will dominate the 2006 General Assembly session, could be the first test of Kaine's campaign pledge to reach across the aisle to work with Republicans.
"I don't think the sources of revenue are there to do a long-range plan of solving transportation needs effectively," said Sen. John H. Chichester (R-Northumberland), who chairs the Finance Committee. But he said of the commission, "I don't know what they are going to do."
Howell said Kaine called him yesterday morning to begin a dialogue. "I thought it was very gracious," Howell said. "I'm looking forward to working with Tim Kaine and the agenda he talked about during the campaign."
But Howell said Kaine should not expect the House to accept tax increases next year.
"If Tim Kaine continues to oppose the gas tax increase, as he said during the campaign, I'm sure we'll find a lot of common ground," Howell said. "If Tim Kaine repudiates what he ran for . . . we're not going to be with him on that."
House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said the extent of the struggle between House Republicans and the next governor will depend on "which Kaine shows up" when the legislature convenes in temporary chambers in January. The Capitol is closed for renovations and will reopen in 2007.
"I expect Chichester will try to float a big tax," Griffith said. "It will be interesting to see if Kaine endorses it or not."
Lawmakers in both chambers said they will welcome Kaine, who spent four years presiding over the Senate as lieutenant governor.
But several said there will be a period of adjustment as the Republican-controlled General Assembly gets used to a new chief executive. Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), barred from running for reelection, had a rocky relationship with the House Republicans but found common cause with some GOP moderates, who helped him pass a tax increase in 2004 to support additional spending on education and other services.
"A lot of the members don't know Tim Kaine," said G. Paul Nardo, Howell's chief of staff. "We start off as sort of, we saw the campaign, and that's what we know of him. From an institutional perspective, he's something of an unknown."
Warner said the message from the voters on Election Day was that people want to see Richmond's politicians cooperating. The governor, who held town meetings across Virginia to push for his tax proposals in 2004, said Kaine is smart to travel the state before the legislative session starts.
"It's a problem that's not going to disappear," Warner said of the transportation issue. "If there was anything learned out of 2004, it's that you have to take your case directly to the people."
But he added that Kaine must "continue to reach out to some of the Republican legislators to find that common ground."
Political observers, politicians, consultants and others began deconstructing the election, trying to figure out why voters did what they did. "My analysis is too negative for too long," Griffith said of Kilgore's campaign, which included numerous attacks on Kaine.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria) said Democrats were helped by GOP campaigns that appealed "to people's fears and prejudices rather than hope and opportunity."
Kaine announced the formation of committees to oversee his transition and his inauguration, which will be held in Colonial Williamsburg because of the Capitol reconstruction in Richmond.
The transition team will be chaired by Larry Roberts, an Arlington lawyer, who was chairman of his gubernatorial campaign; Del. Viola O. Baskerville (D-Richmond); and Glenn R. Croshaw, a former Democratic delegate from Virginia Beach.
He also announced the committee's first four staff members: Brian Shepard, his chief of staff, as director; Judy Anderson as personnel director; Delacey Skinner, his campaign press secretary, as communication director; and Rick Siger as director of operations.
Matthew Felan, Kaine's campaign finance director, will be the senior staff member of the inaugural committee. That committee will be chaired by Stuart Siegel, a Richmond businessman and longtime supporter, and Sheila Johnson of Middleburg, owner of the Washington Mystics and co-founder of Black Entertainment Television.
Staff writer Robert Barnes contributed to this report.