- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2001

BUENA VISTA, Va. — Republican Mark L. Earley kicked off the stretch run to the Nov. 6 Virginia governor's election yesterday with a promise that he would carry through on the promises of the past eight years of Republican governors, and with sharp criticism of his opponent, Democrat Mark R. Warner, who he said opposed many of the key initiatives from those years.

"It's going to boil down to this — who can you trust to keep the promises to the people of Virginia," Mr. Earley told the crowd during the annual Labor Day festivities in this small town off Interstate 81, just east of Lexington.

But Mr. Warner denied opposing many of those policies, and said Mr. Earley was spending more time tearing down Democrats than proposing an agenda for the state. He said the choice on Election Day comes down to partisan politics of the Republicans or his own path of fiscal responsibility and new economic opportunities for all parts of the state.

"All I heard were negative personal attacks," he told the crowd, asking, "Are we tired of negative attacks in Virginia?"

The Labor Day parade in Buena Vista and the political speeches at a park pavilion are staples of Virginia politics. The event is a chance for the campaigns to take measure of each other at the traditional start of the full campaign season.

Joining Mr. Earley were his ticket-mates: Delegate Jay Katzen, running for lieutenant governor, and former secretary of public safety Jerry Kilgore, running for attorney general. Joining Mr. Warner were Richmond Mayor Tim Kaine, running for lieutenant governor, and Delegate A. Donald McEachin, running for attorney general.

Mr. Earley, trailing Mr. Warner in polls by double digits, came out with a pointed message.

He listed successes orchestrated by Republicans Gov. James S. Gilmore III and George F. Allen, now in the U.S. Senate, including abolishing parole, reforming welfare, requiring that minors seeking abortions first notify their parents, creating the Standards of Learning and the tests to evaluate student performance, and phasing out the car tax.

He said Mr. Warner opposed most of those policies, and said the Democrat couldn't be trusted to carry through on them.

Mr. Warner disputed several of those charges.

"Let's set the record straight — I support welfare reform, I support abolition of parole, I support the death penalty, I'm against gay marriage, I support Second Amendment rights, and this kind of garbage that's coming out from the other side is nothing but false and misleading," he said.

After the speeches, he told reporters Mr. Earley's remarks were a sign of desperation, coming so early in the campaign: "I've been to a lot of Buena Vista parades, and I've never seen that kind of attack launched."

Also marching in the parade was Jerry Baxley, a Richmond resident who heads the Southern Party and is a write-in candidate for governor.

The campaigns traditionally try to upstage each other at the parade. There's an informal contest to post the most campaign signs along the parade route. This year was close to a draw, with perhaps a slight edge to Mr. Warner and his bigger group.

Another good sign for Mr. Warner was the large number of businesses that allowed campaign signs to be posted in their windows or on their walls especially on the side of Grizzly Archery, a coup for Mr. Warner, who is trying to woo sportsmen with his positions on gun rights and hunting.

Along the crowded parade route, Mr. Warner darted from one side to the other, not letting a hand escape unshaken. His frenetic pace left his shirt soaked with sweat by the time he was halfway through the route. Mr. Earley, meanwhile, kept a steady gait and arrived just beginning to perspire through his shirt.

Mr. Warner campaigned out of his assigned position in the route, a few yards ahead of Mr. Earley.

Republicans had their own ploy: A person dressed in a chicken costume, calling attention to Mr. Warner's not agreeing to more debates.

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