Friday, October 28, 2005

Republicans’ national political problems have left Jerry Kilgore campaigning against a “head wind” in the race for the post of Virginia’s governor.

Over the past two months Mr. Kilgore’s lead in the polls over Democrat Tim Kaine has slipped away, as the national Republican Party has faced indictments, investigations, a Supreme Court nominee forced to withdraw and a president bruised over his handling of Hurricane Katrina and his spending plans for rebuilding the Gulf Coast,.

“One, there is a head wind. Two, it’s not helpful,” said Chris LaCivita, a Republican strategist who has run statewide campaigns in Virginia. “It’s not helpful, but it’s not fatal. At the end of the day the campaign is about Jerry Kilgore and Tim Kaine.”

He said Virginia is one-third Republican, one-third Democrat and one-third independents. Those independents are usually inclined to vote Republican, “however if given an opportunity, that core group of the electorate will vote for a Democrat” such as Gov. Mark Warner.

Republicans fear the disruptions in Washington may make their party members less excited about turning out.

“On a big-picture scale, it might demoralize our Republican base,” said Delegate David Albo, Fairfax Republican. “They’re not going to come and vote for the Democrat, but it might cause them to stay at home. That’s what we’re worried about.”

Mr. Albo said in delegate races such as his, party identification won’t make as much of a difference because he has a years-long record on projects such as the Springfield Mixing Bowl, so he doesn’t have to run on Republican credentials alone.

But he said it matters in the statewide races, in which the candidates are introducing themselves to many of the voters from scratch.

Mr. Kilgore now faces questions because he will skip President Bush’s speech today in Norfolk on terrorism. Instead, Mr. Kilgore will be in Richmond for a 70th-anniversary luncheon for the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Kilgore campaign spokesman Tucker Martin says the Bush speech is a policy event, not a place to campaign. He said Mr. Bush held a fundraiser in July in Virginia, and first lady Laura Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney held fundraisers with Mr. Kilgore earlier this month.

Mr. Kilgore said earlier this month that he has invited the president to appear with him at rallies in the weeks leading up to the election.

“I’m not running away from the president. I think the president is still a big draw for the commonwealth,” he told The Washington Times.

For now, Mr. Kilgore will campaign with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, at an Arlington country club Wednesday.

Republican members of Congress said Mr. Kilgore is running a solid campaign, and they and some strategists said Mr. Kilgore is actually doing surprisingly well in key parts of Virginia.

Jay Timmons, who has run statewide campaigns and served as chief of staff to Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, said he sees an enthusiasm that should translate into better support for Mr. Kilgore.

“The energy level for the Kilgore campaign is very similar to both the 2004 presidential race and [Mr. Allen’s] 1993 governor’s race — it’s very intense, and that is a precursor to a movement in numbers,” Mr. Timmons said.

But Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said Republicans’ poor national showing will hurt in Northern Virginia.

“Some people, certainly in Northern Virginia, intend to send a message to the Republican Party about what’s happening at the national level,” he said.

The Kaine campaign said the national situation also helps them because it spotlights the muddle on one side of the Potomac River versus a state that looks well-managed under the Democrat Mr. Warner.

“Suddenly being the best-managed state in the nation wasn’t just a cool little title,” said Mo Elleithee, a spokesman for Mr. Kaine. “People understood what that meant all of the sudden.”

In addition to the national party issues, Mr. Kilgore faces a problem with some conservative Republicans who say he was not forceful enough in his position on abortion during a debate, and with tax cutters who want him to sign a pledge against new taxes.

Several political consultants said they have noticed a drop in Virginia voters’ willingness to identify with Republicans, who used to hold an edge of 5 percentage points or more over Democrats in party identification or generic support, now only breaking even.

Mr. Albo said that if correct, such a figure would be “the statistical proof” that the national problems matter.

“No one’s called me up and said, ‘I’m sick of the Republican Party.’ But you just don’t feel the energy like you did when George Allen ran,” he said.

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