- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2005

The two leading candidates running for governor of Virginia are taking their faith on the campaign trail.

Former state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, a Republican who kicked off his campaign for governor earlier this week, told supporters in Virginia Beach that his church in Gate City, Va., inspired him.

Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat whose campaign commenced last week, has said his experience as a missionary in Honduras shaped his passion for public service.

Faith and values will be key for each gubernatorial candidate as they seek the votes of Virginians, who overwhelmingly supported the re-election of President Bush last year.

For Mr. Kilgore, a Baptist, and Mr. Kaine, a Catholic, their belief in God is a cornerstone of their lives and has played a prominent role throughout their careers. Both men regularly attend church services in Richmond.

“As a young boy growing up in a small town, [my parents] instilled in me the values of hard work, honesty and a deep and abiding faith in God,” Mr. Kilgore, 43, told supporters at a rally in Virginia Beach. “I would attend services at our small church nestled among our majestic mountains — overshadowed only by the importance of our faith and the size of our dreams.”

In speeches to his supporters, Mr. Kaine, 47, brings up the time he spent building medical clinics and schools and teaching poor teenagers carpentry skills in Honduras when he was 22.

“I was a young guy searching for a direction in life,” said Mr. Kaine. “The experience taught me a life in service is a fulfilled life.”

Robert D. Holsworth, director of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, said Mr. Kaine champions his faith far more than most other political candidates, particularly Democrats. Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat who won the state’s top office in 2001, had said he was a person of faith, but maintained that his religious beliefs were personal and not part of the campaign.

“It is beyond political expedience,” Mr. Holsworth said, asserting that Mr. Kaine has been “speaking about his faith for many years, even before he ran for statewide office. It’s evident it’s something that is deeply felt in his life.”

Mr. Kaine often refers to his Catholic faith when explaining some of his more controversial viewpoints, including his moral opposition to the death penalty. Mr. Kaine has said he personally opposes the practice, but that as an elected official he would uphold the law.

Mr. Holsworth said it is politically smart for candidates to discuss faith and values, given the results of last year’s presidential election.

“Virginians want to know where a person’s values are and what motivates and animates their life,” he said.

Mr. Kilgore refers to “faith” and “God” four times in his stump speech. He applauds the “character” found in Virginia families and neighborhoods, but also specifically mentions churches, synagogues and mosques.

“As I set out on this endeavor, I draw strength from my faith in God, my family and friends just like you,” Mr. Kilgore tells supporters on the campaign trail.

Mr. Kaine refers to “faith” and “God” five times in his stump speech and quotes from the book of 1 Corinthians: “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.”

“My faith has been my guiding force,” Mr. Kaine tells his supporters.

Mr. Kaine has begun airing radio ads that detail his work as a missionary. On the campaign trail, he talks about Jim O’Leary, a missionary with whom he worked in Honduras, and calls him one of his heroes.

The experience as a missionary was so profound that Mr. Kaine and his wife celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary last year in Honduras and visited Mr. O’Leary’s grave. While there, Mr. Kaine visited the school where he taught a handful of students in 1980. Today, the school is used by hundreds of students.

Mr. Kilgore and Mr. Kaine most likely will challenge each other in the governor’s race. Mr. Kilgore faces Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch in the June 14 Republican primary. Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., Winchester Republican, is running in November as an independent.

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