Virginia’s gubernatorial race

You may not realize that only two states will be holding major statewide elections in 2005: Virginia and New Jersey. With no federal elections next year, that means the races for Governor in these two states will be the headliners. Erick asked if I would touch on the Virginia gubernatorial race, since it will be so high-profile in the coming year.

FYI, I’m an elected Republican prosecutor in Virginia (probably the only current elected official who is blogging), and I’m fairly plugged in to the political scene, especially on the right).

Virginia’s current Governor, Mark Warner, is a Democrat, and a rising star in that party. He won in 2001 by running as a very conservative candidate, especially fiscally (though he’s pro-gun rights, as you must be to win in Virginia).

The Republican candidate for Governor is Attorney General Jerry Kilgore. He’ll be facing off against current Lieutenant Governor Tim Kaine.

Jerry Kilgore has an interesting backstory. In 2001, Kilgore won more votes than anyone statewide, sweeping to the AG’s office by a huge margin. Kilgore is a solid conservative who came out strongly against the tax increases that were passed last year in the General Assembly. The recent polls have Kilgore ahead by a margin of anywhere between 5 and 9 percent, though there are a large number of undecideds who haven’t heard of either candidate.

The most interesting point in Kilgore’s profile is his rural background. Kilgore is from Gate City, in rural southwest Virginia. It has been decades since Virginia elected a Governor from far southwest Virginia, so his victory in the 2001 AG’s race was heralded in rural Virginia as a huge victory. He won some of the rural counties by more than 80% in the last election, and he’ll need to do that again to counter the more-liberal areas of northern Virginia. (And he probably will; rural Virginia often feels ignored by Richmond, and having one of their own in the Executive Mansion would be considered a personal victory).

There’s a lot more on the state of the race in the extended entry.

Prior to becoming Attorney General, Jerry Kilgore served as the Secretary of Public Safety in then-Gov. (now Sen.) George Allen’s cabinet, where he helped abolish the parole system in Virginia. He’s a very polished candidate and an excellent, disciplined campaigner. He’ll be a formidable candidate, not least because he has a twin brother, Terry, who is a state legislator; they often joke that they can cover twice as much of the state as any opponent.

Tim Kaine is the former Mayor of Richmond, and he suffers from a name recognition problem. You might think being elected to a statewide office would cure that, but it hasn’t for Kaine, mainly because Lt. Gov. in Virginia is largely a ceremonial post. That’s in stark contrast to Attorney General, which offers a strong bully pulpit, allowing Kilgore to stay in the public spotlight for the last four years.

Kaine has a bit of a leftist record in Richmond, but he is working full-time to run as a Mark Warner Democrat, i.e., pro-business, fiscally responsible, pro-gun, etc. One problem Kaine will have is his opposition to the death penalty, though that’s not the issue in Virginia that it once was.

Kaine has surprised everyone by his ability to raise money, though he still trails Kilgore in the money department. Kilgore is a master fundraiser, and I don’t expect Kaine to top him, but he’s staying close right now.

Right now, Kilgore is the clear leader in the race, but the tax issue is one that will not be going away. There is a potential split in the GOP, as some liberal Republicans voted for the tax increase last year, allowing Mark Warner a big victory. Americans for Tax Reform is targeting those pro-tax Republicans, and the Dems are hopeful that it will affect Kilgore’s campaign.

I don’t expect that to be a big problem for Kilgore. Virginia has a surplus, and most Virginians are anti-tax right now. Plus, Kilgore is a very popular figure around the state.

I’ll go out on a limb and make a prediction: Kilgore by 6 points. Virginia will become a fully red state again.

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Erick Erickson

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