- The Washington Times - Monday, September 5, 2005

BUENA VISTA, Va. — The campaign season in Virginia officially kicked off yesterday at the annual Labor Day parade here, as candidates for the state’s top posts traded barbs and stumped for votes.

Remarks by the Democratic candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general revolved around the theme of continuing the legacy of Gov. Mark Warner.

The Republican candidates reiterated their opposition to the $1.38 billion tax increase that Mr. Warner and other Democrats championed last year.

The parade in Buena Vista and political speeches at a park pavilion are the staples of Virginia politics, marking the traditional start of the campaign season.

The election is Nov. 8.

Yesterday morning, Mr. Warner walked with Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the Democrat who hopes to succeed him, along the parade route. Mr. Kaine is challenging Republican Jerry W. Kilgore and independent H. Russell Potts Jr. in the governor’s race.

“We have come too far in the last four years to turn around and go backward,” Mr. Kaine told the crowd. “We’ve got to keep Virginia moving forward.”

Mr. Kilgore, a former attorney general, recalled the tax fight last year.

“I’m proud to be the only conservative running for governor in Virginia,” he said. “I’m proud to have stood against the largest tax increase in Virginia history.”

Mr. Warner praised the Democrats and Republican centrists who voted for the 2004 package that raised some taxes and cut others to fund core state services such as education, public safety and health care.

Although many Republicans supported the tax plan, the governor said, “not a single one of the three Republican candidates for statewide office stood with us.”

Mr. Kilgore’s running mates — state Sen. William T. Bolling of Mechanicsville and Delegate Robert F. McDonnell of Virginia Beach — voted against those tax increases.

Mr. Bolling is running for lieutenant governor; Mr. McDonnell is running for attorney general.

Mr. Kaine’s running mates — Leslie Byrne and state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds of Bath County — said they are proud to run on Mr. Warner’s record.

“This election boils down to one thing only: Do we want to move forward or do we want to reverse course?” said Mr. Deeds, who is running for attorney general.

Buena Vista is a community of almost 7,000 in the Shenandoah Valley.

The warm, clear weather was the best for Labor Day in recent years, but observers said the turnout was low.

Many who lined the parade route said they came for the festivities, not the politics. Others said they would use the candidates’ speeches to make up their minds about whom they would support in November.

The candidates warmed up the crowd with a few jokes, but the rhetoric quickly sharpened.

Mrs. Byrne, a former state legislator and U.S. representative running for lieutenant governor, accused her challengers of trying to divide voters on social issues including “gays, guns and God.”

“Gay marriage has been outlawed since 1998; nobody is going to take anybody’s gun away, and we all love the Lord,” she said. “Don’t let yourself be divided.”

Mr. Bolling pledged to keep taxes low and noted the Republican ticket’s support of a state constitutional amendment defining traditional marriage.

“Our Republican ticket stands for the values that the people of Virginia believe in,” he said. “Our Republican ticket is Virginia’s ticket.”

Mrs. Byrne said Virginia needed some “TLC,” or “Tim, Leslie, Creigh.”

Mr. Bolling fired back: “It means ‘tax ‘em like crazy,’ and we’ve had enough of that in Virginia.”

Mr. Potts, a Republican state senator from Winchester, criticized Mr. Kaine and Mr. Kilgore and repeated his support of the tax increases.

“I’m proud to have played a major role in that,” he said. “Shame on anyone that turns their back on Virginia and the core services that we really need.”

In the so-called “sign war,” the winner was Mr. Kaine with his red and blue campaign advertisements blanketing the area.

Mr. Kilgore said his campaign is donating $5,000 to a hurricane relief fund instead of purchasing “wasteful” signs that will be discarded.

Kaine staffers said the signs are reusable and questioned the sincerity of Mr. Kilgore’s actions.

Buena Vista resident Mike Clements, 49, said he was irritated by the infiltration of the campaign signs.

“It’s like a carnival is coming to town,” he said.

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