RICHMOND -- Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore will resign Feb. 1 to focus on his Republican race for governor, official sources and GOP sources close to Mr. Kilgore said late yesterday.
Mr. Kilgore is leaving early to give the Republican-controlled General Assembly time to appoint a successor to serve the final year of his term, sources told the Associated Press.
If he waits until after the legislature adjourns, Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, would select the interim attorney general.
Mr. Kilgore scheduled a staff meeting for this morning to inform his employees of his decision.
By departing early, Mr. Kilgore follows a practice -- rare nationally -- of Virginia attorneys general stepping aside months early to run for governor full time.
Leaving midway through this year's legislative session, however, also frees Mr. Kilgore from a state law that prohibits elected state officeholders from raising campaign funds while the General Assembly is in session.
His likely Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, will be prohibited from raising money until after the adjournment of the session, scheduled for Feb. 26.
"If this is the announcement the attorney general is going to make, then it shows his commitment to be a full-time candidate for governor," said Carrie Cantrell, a spokesman for Mr. Kilgore's campaign for governor.
Mr. Kilgore and Mr. Kaine are virtually tied in raising money in a race that already has yielded heated face-to-face rhetorical skirmishing, according to campaign finance reports that were due yesterday.
Mr. Kaine raised nearly $2.1 million during the final six months of 2004 while Mr. Kilgore brought in slightly more than $2 million over the same period, the campaigns disclosed.
For the campaign thus far, Mr. Kaine has brought in more than $5.3 million overall while Mr. Kilgore has reported almost $5.4 million.
The record-setting fund-raising pace also leaves the Democratic lieutenant governor and Republican attorney general with about $3.2 million apiece in their respective accounts entering the election year.
The reports, however, do not reflect a Democratic National Committee pledge last week to pump $5.4 million into Virginia's statewide races this year, including $1.5 million designated specifically for Mr. Kaine.
Virginia and New Jersey are the only states electing governors this fall.
Mr. Kilgore and Mr. Kaine were both elected in 2001. That election also brought Mr. Warner to power in a state accustomed to voting Republican.
Mr. Kilgore is the fourth straight attorney general to resign before his term ends to run for governor.
Republicans James S. Gilmore III in 1997 and Mark L. Earley in 2001 stepped down as attorney general after winning their party's gubernatorial nomination in the early summer. In both cases, there was no need to time the resignations before the legislature adjourned because the state had Republican governors to keep the powerful office in the party's hands.
Democrat Mary Sue Terry resigned in January 1993, however, even though Democrats controlled the legislature and the governor's office that year.
Of those three, only Mr. Gilmore was elected governor.