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September 14, 2005

Democrat Has Slight Lead in Virginia Gubernatorial Race

Patrick Healey

      This November, Virginians will elect a successor to the departing and widely popular Democratic Governor Mark Warner. Although Warner has enjoyed tremendous approval ratings throughout his term, Virginia law prohibits its governors from seeking reelection. The success of the Warner administration, however, has pumped life into the campaign of his hopeful Democratic successor, current Lieutenant Governor and former Richmond Mayor Timothy Kaine. He faces two challengers in this year's election, Republican candidate and former attorney general Jerry Kilgore and independent candidate H. Russell Potts, a Republican state senator. Kaine leads Kilgore 38 percent to 37 percent with Potts trailing both candidates with only 9 percent of the vote.

      Political leaders from both national parties are eyeing Virginia's race as a litmus test for issues that could shape the congressional midterm elections in 2006. Rising gas prices, frustration with the Iraq war, and President Bush's declining popularity could pose trouble for Kilgore and Republicans. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is searching for ways in which to remain competitive in the South and what issues appeal most to southern Democrats.

      Kaine has pledged to Virginians to continue Gov. Warner's pro-business, centrist policy agenda that helped attract more businesses to Northern Virginia's high-tech corridor and pulled the state out of a record $6 billion deficit, largely attributed to the exorbitant spending by former Republican Governor James Gilmore. Kaine has also proposed to spend $300 million for universal preschool, to be phased in over a period of four years, as well as higher pay for Virginia's educators. Resolving Northern Virginia's transportation problems through new road projects and the expansion of public transit also remains a priority for Kaine. The region currently has the third worst traffic in the nation, behind Los Angeles and San Francisco according to a study done by the Texas Transportation Institute. Perhaps the most contentious issue, however, is what Kilgore has termed Virginia's "illegal immigration crisis." The recent decision by the town of Herndon, a Washington, D.C. suburb, to construct a hiring center for day laborers sparked a contentious debate in which Kilgore assailed the town council for promoting a plan that would "reward and encourage illegal behavior." Kilgore's position has been harshly criticized by Kaine, stating immigration reform should be addressed at the federal level and local governments should retain autonomy to deal with community issues, as well as on the editorial pages of The Washington Post in which Kilgore was condemned for "grasping for an issue to excite his conservative base."

      Kaine does face significant challenges, however. The state has leaned conservative for several years; Virginians have voted for a Republican president in every election since 1968 and the state legislature is controlled by the GOP. As with nearly all southern gubernatorial races, the issue of firearms remains a strongpoint for conservatives. The National Rifle Association gave Kaine an "F" for gun rights, and Kilgore has repeatedly criticized his opponent for supporting gun control measures in the past.

      In spite of these challenges, Kaine is aided tremendously by his strong association with Gov. Warner and an administration that stressed fiscal responsibility, as well as a strong showing in populous Northern Virginia. Following the state's budget crisis, many voters are hesitant to elect a candidate that may construct a budget that leaves Virginia with another deficit. Kaine may also be aided by the candidacy of Potts, who may draw a number of moderate Republicans away from Kilgore. Kaine has embraced Potts' candidacy and has agreed to debate him several times; Kilgore has refused any debates with the independent candidate and declared his candidacy irrelevant. In return, Potts has disparaged Kilgore, calling him "a coward" and his economic proposals fiscally irresponsible.

      If Virginians do elect Kaine on November 8, it could very well be precursor to more Democratic victories in traditionally Republican strongholds in the 2006 elections and signal a loss of confidence in conservative leadership.

Front Page (September 14, 2005)

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