Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Virginia’s gubernatorial campaigns have brought out their heavyweights, with Sen. Barack Obama headlining a Democratic event last night and President Bush hosting a private fundraising dinner tonight.

Mr. Obama, the Illinois Democrat who rose to stardom with an impassioned speech at the Democratic National Convention last summer, appeared with candidate Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine at a Young Leaders Mix and Mingle at the Clarendon Ballroom in Arlington.

“This is one of the most important races in the country,” Mr. Obama said. “Virginia, I think, has shown the capacity for Democrats to do well in what is considered a red state.”

The event, which drew more than 1,000 people, raised about $50,000, organizers said. After his speech, Mr. Obama gave Mr. Kaine a $10,000 check.

“I don’t just talk the talk, I walk the walk, and I want you guys to walk the walk,” Mr. Obama told the screaming crowd.

Mr. Bush will raise nearly $2 million for Republican Jerry W. Kilgore at what organizers promise to be a “very intimate” sit-down dinner at the home of Dwight Schar in McLean.

About 100 are expected to attend, donating between $15,000 and $100,000 each.

“This event clearly shows that the party is united behind Jerry, from our local activists all the way up to the leader of the free world,” Kilgore campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.

No major politicians have campaigned for H. Russell Potts Jr., a Republican state senator from Winchester who is running for governor as an independent.

Mr. Bush’s appearance tonight contrasts with his notable absence in the 2001 campaign, when the commander-in-chief was criticized for not campaigning for Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark L. Earley.

Mr. Earley lost to Democrat Mark Warner.

The president’s primary reason for his absence was to show bipartisanship after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

However, Mr. Bush did write a letter to Virginia voters in support of the Republican ticket, which included Mr. Kilgore, who won the race for attorney general. The president also recorded a phone call that went out to hundreds of thousands of homes.

In 1990, the first President Bush stumped for Republican gubernatorial nominee Clayton Williams in Texas, even as U.S. troops were massing in Saudi Arabia. Mr. Williams lost to Democrat Ann Richards.

In 1997, President Clinton stumped with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Donald S. Beyer Jr. in Alexandria just before the election, but Republican James S. Gilmore III cruised to an easy victory.

Mr. Gilmore said he did not have the advantage of a sitting Republican president campaigning for him, but several key Republicans came to Virginia to help him. Former Vice President Dan Quayle helped him raise $1 million in one day.

Mr. Gilmore yesterday said Mr. Obama’s appearance and any by Mr. Clinton will help Mr. Kaine.

“But there’s no substitute for the sitting president of the United States,” Mr. Gilmore said. “It’s very important for the president to come in and campaign for Jerry.”

Mr. Bush won Virginia by nine percentage points in November and by eight points in 2000. Though his popularity recently has declined nationally, the president is rated favorably in Virginia.

Meanwhile, the Kaine campaign said so far no other heavy hitters — including Mr. Clinton — are booked to campaign for the lieutenant governor. But campaign spokeswoman Delacey Skinner noted a $1 million fundraiser Mr. Kaine held with Mr. Warner earlier this year.

“The focus we have is on events we have on the calendar and the support we have within the state from politicians like Governor Warner, that’s the most important thing to us,” she said.

Mr. Kaine had led in fundraising all year, partly because of a $1.5 million donation from the Democratic National Committee. Early donations for the Bush fundraiser helped put Mr. Kilgore over the top in the most recent fundraising report.

Mr. Kilgore raised $2.11 million from June 2 to June 30, bringing his overall fundraising total to an estimated $10.8 million. He had $4.6 million cash on hand as of June 30.

Mr. Kaine raised $1.03 million during that period, bringing his fundraising total to an estimated $11.1 million. He had $5.1 million cash on hand as of June 30.

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