CRYSTAL CITY, Va. — Making the case for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore here yesterday, running in perhaps the nation’s most important race this off-year, Senator John Warner cited support that includes President Bush, as well as powerful Virginia Republicans in Washington. “Jerry Kilgore can call eight Republican senators — excuse me, congressmen. Right, Frank?”
Warner didn’t mean to refer to Congressman Frank Wolf as a senator. He attributed his slip to the top-heavy state of Virginia Republican politics: “All those guys want to take my job.” For now, they’re behind Jerry Kilgore.
Flanked by Wolf and former Gov. Jim Gilmore at the Crystal Gateway Marriott ballroom, Senator Warner represented the united Republican front that Kilgore has secured early in the race. Kilgore is a former state attorney general (he resigned as Virginia AG on Feb. 1 to prepare for his run) from a staunch Republican family that hails from Gate City, population 2200, just miles from the Tennessee line. Statewide and nationally, Republicans see Kilgore as the best chance to retake the governorship of one of the fastest growing and most politically important states. And he’s off to a strong start, with a March 10 poll showing a 10-point lead.
GOP blessing in hand, Kilgore turned to a wider audience yesterday. While Kilgore faces a nominal challenger in the primary from Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch, he is aiming for apparent Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. Timothy Kaine. Asked about the primary, Deputy Press Secretary J. Tucker Martin said, “We’re running against Tim Kaine.”
Kilgore and his surrogates swiped at Kaine before the crowd of about 300. Contrasting Kilgore to Gov. Mark Warner, with whom Kaine has closely identified himself, Jim Gilmore said the Republican candidate is a “fiscal conservative. And by the way, he’s not going to redefine fiscal conservatism by just raising taxes.” John Warner disparaged Kaine’s lack of valuable Washington contacts. Kilgore himself concluded the meat of his speech with a series of contrasts, “My opponent’s record is out of step with Virginians like you and me.”
Jerry Kilgore showed Tuesday at his campaign kickoff tour stop that he has a familiar tightrope to walk: balancing his appeal between assurances to conservatives and safe offerings to all Virginians. Broadly emphasizing “Virginia values,” Kilgore said his administration would focus on rising tax assessments, education, transportation, public safety, and new jobs. Kilgore vowed to “cap real estate tax assessment increases at no more than five percent per year” and subject any state tax increase to a referendum. His campaign also pledges a phase-out of the contentious car tax.
Kilgore offered few specifics on his public safety positions. However, Rep. Wolf said Kilgore is “committed to eliminating all violent gangs” and Sen. Warner promised to help secure federal homeland security funds.
Kilgore called for increased transportation and education spending. Three out of Wolf’s four reasons “to go out and tell anybody” to support Kilgore were specific transit projects of special importance to the national capital area: such as extending rail to Dulles Airport, widening Interstate 66 within the Beltway, and building a new interchange along I-66. Kilgore also promised to devolve transportation power and funding to regional transportation authorities. Nothing exciting, but this is what governors do.
On education, Kilgore proposed $500-per-child tax credits, higher pay for superior teachers, and an education investment trust fund devoted to school infrastructure.
The Kilgore campaign seems conscious that conservatives may balk at some aspects of its platform. The education trust fund is new spending, Martin conceded, but it will last only so as the money’s there. Kilgore told reporters that “we will prioritize our budget” if economic conditions sour.
Kilgore presented a delicate mix of butter and populism. Despite his reliance on Richmond and Washington for support and funding, Kilgore repeatedly declared his suspicion of Richmond solutions. “All the answers are not found in Richmond, and all the decisions should not be made there either.” Citing the “watchdog commission” he would create to monitor waste, he said, “I’m convinced it’s not a lack of money in Richmond; it’s a lack of priorities.”
For now, Kilgore is comfortable as a conservative. A substantial portion of the crowd was Fairfax Christian School students bussed in for the rally. Students Mark Thomas and Rayan Almadani, who volunteered for the Bush campaign, said their principal David Thoburn brought the students to support his friend Jerry Kilgore.
Proving that the Terri Schiavo case has become a conservative bellwether, Kilgore was ready for questions about the battle over the Florida woman’s life. “I support the president. I support the culture of life. I thought Congress did the right thing in giving her family the shot to try and save her. And my thoughts and prayers are with the family today.”