- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, a staunch antitax advocate, will have to seek support in his gubernatorial race from Senate Republicans who this year backed the state’s largest tax increase in history.

Mr. Kilgore, the presumed Republican nominee for governor in 2005, must unite a deeply divided state party if he wants to win, political insiders said.

Some state senators, who promoted the tax increase as an investment in Virginia’s future, say Mr. Kilgore should back off his “extreme” antitax message. Others say they will stand by any Republican nominee.

“It’s important for Kilgore to have a relatively unified Republican Party,” said Robert D. Holsworth, director of the School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University. “The task of unifying the party really falls upon him. If he does it, he has a very good shot at winning. The only time [the Republican Party] tends to lose is when they are really divided.”

Mr. Holsworth said Mr. Kilgore has work to do after a bitter legislative session that lasted an unprecedented 115 days. The session ended when about 20 House Republicans defied their party and joined Democrats and the Senate to pass a $1.38 billion budget plan that increases some taxes and cuts others.

Mr. Kilgore, who has yet to announce his run for governor, already has shifted his message toward the center.

“I don’t think the party is divided,” Mr. Kilgore said. “A few people disagree on this one issue of taxes. It’s time to move forward.”

Mr. Kilgore, 42, said his campaign will focus on streamlining government and making operations more efficient, rather than a “no-tax” message.

“We bring everyone together if we talk about those issues — those are solid Republican issues,” he said.

Sen. John H. Chichester, Stafford County Republican, one of the most powerful senators who pushed for the tax increase, said Mr. Kilgore has become too extreme on the state’s financial obligations.

“The ‘No tax, no tax’ cry is absurd,” Mr. Chichester said. “It’s absurd to continue down that path. It’s a non-winner. You may win the governor’s mansion, but you win nothing for the commonwealth of Virginia.”

Mr. Chichester said he will support a Republican candidate who is “less strident in both their rhetoric and their philosophies.”

Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., a Winchester Republican who has not ruled out a run for the Republican nomination for governor, said “middle-of-the-road, common-sense” Republicans are turned off by rigid antitax messages.

“There are two wings of the Republican Party: the right wing and the sane wing,” Mr. Potts said. “I’m a member of the sane wing and I believe you don’t govern by saying no on everything.”

Mark Rozell, chairman of the department of politics at Catholic University, said Mr. Kilgore must embrace all factions of the Republican Party.

“Though he may have real differences with the party moderates like Chichester, he needs to have their support,” he said. “It’s important he cultivate them early. He needs to convey he’s an open-minded conservative.”

Some Republicans, including supporters of the tax increases, said Mr. Kilgore will unite his party easily.

“Jerry Kilgore’s candidacy will be the central point around which every single Republican can rally,” said Delegate L. Preston Bryant Jr., a Lynchburg Republican who led the bipartisan coalition to pass the tax increase. “Kilgore has the political skills and the personality to bring everyone together.”

Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch, a Henrico County Republican who supported the tax increase, called Mr. Kilgore his “friend and neighbor.”

“Jerry is a my candidate for governor,” Mr. Stosch said. “I wish him every success. I certainly want him to be our nominee.”

Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the expected Democratic nominee for the governor’s race, supported the tax increase. He is president of the Senate and respected by senators.

Campaign spokeswoman Dawn Farrar said Mr. Kaine is focusing on speaking with voters and not on generating political allies. However, “he absolutely needs bipartisan support,” she said.

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