- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2005

RICHMOND — Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. is considering jumping into the Virginia gubernatorial race, which already has at least three candidates.

The Winchester Republican said he will make a decision by the end of the month, when the General Assembly session is scheduled to adjourn.

Mr. Potts, who is considered a moderate in the party because he voted for last year’s tax increases, would run as either a Republican in a June primary against two known candidates or as an independent in November.

Rumors about his run have been swirling for months.

When asked whether he will run, Mr. Potts said, “I don’t know. I’m thinking about that.”

Mr. Potts, who is not up for re-election in the Senate until 2007, has opened the Vision for Virginia committee to explore running for statewide office, according to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP). He has $42,191 in that account and $3,367 in his Senate account.

Former Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, 43, is the clear front-runner among Republicans, raising more than $5 million and picking up this week the endorsement of three key state Republicans — former Gov. James S. Gilmore III and U.S. Sens. John W. Warner and George Allen.

Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch, 56, joined the Republican race earlier this week as a staunch anti-tax candidate. Mr. Fitch, who has been the town’s mayor for six years, is perhaps best known for creating a bobsled team from Jamaica for the 1988 Calgary Olympics less than six months before the games. His success inspired the 1993 Disney movie “Cool Runnings.”

The winner of the Republican primary likely would face Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. So far, Mr. Kaine, 46, has no primary competition.

Mr. Potts, 65, said the division among Virginia Republicans over social issues might give him an advantage in the race.

“The reason that we are so divided is because you have these attempts to infringe upon the personal privacy of women,” he said after denouncing several bills that restrict abortion. “It’s madness; this is absolute madness.”

Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia, said if Mr. Potts decides to run as an independent, that “could easily be the difference” that would help Mr. Kaine win.

“It would greatly damage Kilgore,” Mr. Sabato said. “There are a lot of moderate Republicans in Virginia who are unhappy with the drift of the party in the last 10 or 15 years, and they will probably vote for [Mr. Potts]. It won’t be nearly enough to win, but it would be mainly bad news for Jerry Kilgore.”

Because Mr. Potts is a Republican, he would likely take “far more” votes away from Mr. Kilgore than he would from Mr. Kaine, Mr. Sabato said, comparing Mr. Potts to presidential contender H. Ross Perot. Mr. Perot ran as an independent candidate for U.S. president in 1992 and 1996.

Mr. Sabato said Mr. Fitch “is a total unknown” and not likely to have an impact.

Mr. Potts, who has served in the Senate for 13 years, was criticized by anti-tax groups for voting to raise the sales, cigarette and real-estate taxes by $1.38 billion.

“Yes, I hate taxes, but I love Virginia more,” he said last year.

Mr. Potts also consistently is praised by pro-choice lobbyists because as chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee, he makes sure bills that restrict access to abortion and birth control are rejected and never become law.

Mr. Potts said he opposes such bills because they are “far beyond where President Bush stands on the issue.” He also opposes a bill that would forbid illegal aliens from attending state colleges.

It is not clear what support Mr. Potts will have if he decides to run.

Several Republican lawmakers have said they are split with Mr. Kilgore on social issues and on taxes. Mr. Kilgore opposed the tax increases.

Democrats said they think the split will translate into wins for their party.

“It’s a real plus for us,” said Kerry J. Donley, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. “Going into the campaign with a united Democratic front will help Tim Kaine be successful in his quest to become the next governor.”

Mr. Sabato agreed.

“The amazing thing is Kaine has got a free ride. All the problems are gravitating to Kilgore,” he said.

Mr. Kilgore and Mr. Kaine are even in fund-raising, according to VPAP.

The most recent campaign-finance reports show that Mr. Kaine raised more than $5.3 million and Mr. Kilgore had raised almost $5.4 million by the end of 2004.

Mr. Kilgore stepped down as attorney general earlier this month to run for governor.

Mr. Fitch, who has raised $145,325, told the Associated Press that a lawyer is not the best person to manage a government.

“It’s like asking a carpenter to fix your toilet,” he said.

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