Thursday, April 28, 2005

Want some wood?

The Washington Post today picks up on a story that most Virginians have been following for awhile now: Kilgore’s reluctance to debate Kaine. There’s a Virginia Bar Association Debate on July 16th he's agreed to, and Kilgore also may participate in the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce debate in the fall, which could be clutch opportunity for both candidates in the home stretch of the campaign. "That one's high on my list," says Kilgore.

The Post says what all of us have already been thinking about this situation, that Kilgore is simply afraid of debate because Kaine is a former trial lawyer and a nifty debater that Kilgore can’t handle. At an AP event in 2003, Kilgore became visibly frustrated by Kaine’s snappy dialogue and criticism. In 2004, at the same event, Kilgore learned from his mistakes and performed better. So, like the presidential election of 2000, Kilgore could very well benefit from low expectations. If Kilgore’s strategy is to portray himself as a down-home folksy boy and Kaine as the second-coming of John Kerry, then a modest, on-message performance at a debate could provide a stark contrast to an aggressive, know-it-all Kaine. On that count, the former Lieutenant Governor must be careful. The Post also invokes Ross Perot in examining the impact of Independent (Republican) Russ Potts. Firebrand Potts could steal the show, and like Perot siphoning votes from George H.W. Bush in 1992, or like Nader to Gore in 2002, such a performance would likely be to the detriment to Kilgore.

Also note: Former governor Jim Gilmore (above) doesn’t think either candidate has a chance at passing their homeowner tax platforms once elected. Master of the car tax ploy, the Republican Gilmore knows a thing or two about pushing through voter-friendly legislation (though neither of the homeowner tax relief plans have the simple, basic ring of “No Car Tax”). But unlike the car tax, notes Gilmore, the homeowner tax plan would require not only a victory in the state legislature, but also an amendment to the state constitution. Not an easy task. Says Gilmore: “Republicans in the Senate aren’t likely to pass an amendment to enact this kind of tax relief. Neither are Democrats. They’re both going to be pretty solid.” Legislators learned their lesson from these kinds of tax relief a few years ago when … oh yeah … Gilmore eliminated the car tax and destroyed the state budget. At least it made for a nice bumper sticker.

No Larry Sabato quotes today. Sorry.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

No Candidate Left Behind

Authorized and Paid for by Kaine for Governor: Jerry the Duck.

Kisses from the Confederacy will cook dinner for any reader who can identify if this clip came from AP Day this year or last year.

The Republican Governor's Association are serious about scoring a 29th member this year. Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn chairs the RGA and has vowed to "spend whatever is necessary to win Virginia." They'll be donating through a PAC they've formed called "Honest Leadership for Virginia." RGA vice-chair and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney admits it's "somewhat unusual" to back a candidate before a primary, but they're moving ahead anyway. If out-of-state attention to this race is already making waves, we can't wait until mid-October when we bump into Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Kerry shovelling down grits at Third Street Diner in Richmond between stumps.

One hundred miles north in D.C., in what might be the only true bipartisan maneuver in recent Congressional memory, the Virginia delegation is moving into the second phase of action for trying to get out from under No Child Left Behind. (Utah's state lawmakers rejected several fiscal requirements of the education program last week, and other states are now moving forward with similar legislation). Waivers requested by the Virginia Board of Education were rebuffed earlier this year, and now Senator George Allen (R-VA) has introduced federal legislation that would give states more flexibilty than NCLB currently provides. The Virginia Board of Education and others who oppose NCLB argue that Virginia's Standards of Learning testing program--a program started during Allen's term as Virginia Governor--is robust enough to monitor students' progress making NCLB cumbersome, costly and redundant. Kaine's promise to fully fund the state education formula would be a lot easier without this around.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Kaine hits the boob tube

This just in: Tim Kaine will be running his first television spot of the season on Monday. According to Delacey Skinner, Kaine’s press secretary, it’s going to be mostly biographical, but other than that they’re refusing to give up all the details. Spokespeople for Kilgore say simply that the Republican won’t start advertising at the same time as Kaine. The early advertising gambit may have helped Democrat Mark Warner back in 2001 while opponents John Hager (future Jenna Bush father-in-law?) and Mark Early were slogging it out in Republican primaries.

It seems that Kaine’s biggest problem right now is name recognition, as he trails Kilgore by eight points in the most recent polls. Thus, getting out TV ads early is definitely a good thing, as long as they’re not negative. Leave that to press releases, radio ads, and emails to editorial staffs … then roll out the attack TV ads in, say, May. Also keep in mind that Kaine has more money in the vault right now ($5 million and $1.5 million of that from the pre-Dean DNC) and has also spent less ($800,000 to Kilgore’s $1.2 million). The time is right to work on making voters put his name and face together, unless they’re buying spots during CSI: Miami on Monday, which will break the bank. (But hey, name association with David Caruso? Gold, baby. Pure gold.) And if Kaine hopes to turn off “suburban” voters by exposing Kilgore’s southwest Virginia accent, an early jump in non-accented, sepia-toned advertising will also help.

The Kilgore folks continue to complain about Kaine’s implicit radio ad criticism of Kilgore’s “hick” voice, as Larry J. Sabato, Jr. put it yesterday. The AP reports that Tim Murtaugh, a spokesperson for Kilgore, said that Kaine’s ad demanding that Kilgore speak for himself in radio ads demeaned “rural folk.” (The AP also neatly describes Kilgore as “a Gate City native with a sharp mountain twang.”) Is this an admission by the Kilgore people that Kilgore is, in fact, “rural folk?” In the purple-if-slightly-red state of Virginia, we’re not sure if this is a good or bad thing. It's a bad thing in NoVa. But it’ll be interesting to watch the semantics of the Kilgore campaign when it comes to the “voice issue.” Because, whether people care about his voice or not, people undeniably whisper about it on front porches and at dinner parties across Virginia.

God, did we really just call his voice an issue? Sorry. How easily the press latches onto the inane issues cooked up by crafty PR teams … which brings us back to the point of this blog. Is the press going to pick up on policy? Or are we going to have to wait for a debate? Sigh. We’re going to get some reporting on the issues up here soon. In the meantime, enjoy some shad.

The Potts factor, hanging in there

By James Heffernan
Daily Staff Writer

"WINCHESTER - With a petition drive to get his name on the ballot in November in full swing, independent gubernatorial candidate H. Russell Potts Jr. is getting by with a little help from his friends. In a little more than a month following his Feb. 25 campaign kickoff, Potts has raised nearly $310,000, courtesy of a $250,000 gift from longtime friend and financier Lloyd Ross of Middleburg, according to a recent report filed with the State Board of Elections. Ross, a retired multi-millionaire who runs Kentfield Farm in western Loudoun County, is the founder of the discount retail chain Tuesday Morning, which is headquartered in Dallas. The two men became friends when Potts was athletic director at Southern Methodist University from 1978 to 1981."

At this point Russ can afford to run TV ads during Making the Band III and anything on the Outdoor Life Network.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Voice of the people

A Shad Planking hangover means a slow day for the Virginia press corps, but the petty political back-and-forth between Tim Kaine (D) and Jerry Kilgore (R) isn’t taking a break. It would be nice to open up the paper and read about, say, the homestead tax in something other than a letter to the editor (Thanks Gary Schatz of Glen Allen!), but perhaps we’re not there yet. It is only April. But as we’ve learned so far—going back to last winter—it’s never to early in the Virginia governor’s race to go negative.

Today’s coal nugget: Kaine’s people want Kilgore to speak up, not just on a debate stage, but also on the radio … in his own voice. According to Kaine, via his new radio attack ad, “If I have something to say, I'm not afraid to say it myself. But Jerry Kilgore has been making things up about me and letting slick radio announcers do his dirty work. Virginia deserves a leader who says what he believes -- himself.” This at first recalls a minor dust-up of the presidential campaign, when John Kerry’s people wanted the “I’m so-and-so, and I approve this message” addendum to run at the end of an attack ad rather than at the beginning. Yet Kaine would probably be happy either way, because he likely doesn’t care where or when Kilgore’s voice shows up, just as long as it does in the first place.


Larry J. Sabato, Jr., Virginia’s mustachioed uber-pundit, says it’s because Kilgore’s drawl will be a turn-off to suburban (read: Northern Virginia) voters. “This relates to the Southwest Virginia accent,” said Sabato to Jeff Schapiro in today’s RTD. “It shouldn’t be a handicap, but it is. There is a prejudice about it. The implication of the accent, as it hits the ear of supposedly sophisticated suburbanites, is that it belongs to a country hick.” Is he right? Of course he is … you’re just not supposed to say that sort of thing. (In 1985, Sabato came out and said then-Lt. Governor candidate Doug Wilder was at a disadvantage to voters because he was black. Wilder people still hold a grudge. More on that later.) Affluent Northern Virginia voters like to pretend they’re more cosmopolitan than their central and southwest brethren, so even if Kilgore wants to cut their hefty property and car taxes, some snobs still might not vote for him. They probably wouldn’t go to church if Jesus had a bumpkin accent.

The Kilgore people say Kaine is using this strategy to duck his liberal record, and maybe he is. Indeed, Kaine here has found his version of gay marriage—a crass way to keep the discussion off the really substantive issues. But Kaine has an otherwise distinct advantage, and that is his ability to wax wonkish about Virginia policy when he has to, and that—more so than his opponent’s voice—will ultimately do more to paint Kilgore as a weak leader. Kilgore has to start speaking up sometime, for better or for worse. And don’t forget: while NoVa voters may be turned off by Kilgore’s manner of speaking, voters in Southwest Virginia may end up just as perturbed by Kaine’s out-of-state pedigree.

(Note: Above album cover, while awesome, is not associated with Jerry Kilgore, though Tim Kaine wishes it was.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

And they're off!

Well, the Shad Planking was yesterday and although a full lexical analyisis has not yet been run, the Virginia press corps' admirably sober coverage of the event looks to have run the old word store out of the term "ritual," and phrases paralleling the Virginian tradition of talking politics with the Native American tradition of nailing a fish to a board and smoking it.

So for the uninitiated, the Shad Planking is a yearly event where about 3000 people gather in a field in Wakefield, VA to drink beer, eat fish and talk politics. (And for the really uninititated, a shad is a kind of fish). There's a speaker each year, and last year's event featured UVA poli sci prof and chronic mustachio-pundit Larry J. Sabato, Jr. This year it was the Tim and Jerry Show featuring presumptive gubernatorial candidates Tim Kaine (D) and Jerry Kilgore (R).

Preliminary reports indicate that Kaine (above middle) hired an airplane to circle the crowd trailing a banner that read "Jerry: real leaders don't duck debates," and even hired a man in a duck suit to drive the point home, a stunt seemingly ripped from this season's West Wing, though that was, of course, a chicken. Kilgore (above left) counters that Kaine was getting help from out of state.

Kisses from the Confederacy loves a good talking duck, but is wondering what kind of crystal ball this gubernatorial race will be for next year's state races across the country, in terms of practice and policy. The Medicaid debate puts state government on the hot seat, and with NJ and VA both running governor's races this year, an ongoing study of one might be useful.

Virginia is also an interesting microcosm for the tone of the national political debate. Not only is it a crucible for the GOP's identity (the vastly Republican body legislated Grover Norquist into an ulcer last year with its $1.4 billion tax hike), but given that Kaine has received millions from the DNC and will be running as a fiscal moderate with an emphasis on--gasp!--values, a succesful race may also point the national Democratic platform even further into the middle.

KFTC will be following the governor's campaign, a few House campaigns, and the conversations around them. We'll try to ask questions that real reporters with real deadlines don't have time for.

(Photo courtesy