Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore said yesterday that officials in Northern Virginia are creating incentives for illegal aliens by allowing a day-laborer shelter to open in Herndon, while Democratic candidate Timothy M. Kaine called the comments “mean-spirited.”
The two candidates, locked in a tight race to succeed Gov. Mark Warner, made their comments at a debate that covered terrorism, abortion, the death penalty and the record $1.38 billion tax-increase package passed by the Virginia legislature last year.
The debate at the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner was sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, and it was the second held between the two major-party candidates. It was the first to be televised.
Mr. Kilgore said Fairfax County and Herndon officials are “encouraging the breaking of the law.”
“I do not support using taxpayer dollars to fund illegal immigration, … that has been my consistent view throughout my public service,” said Mr. Kilgore, a former attorney general. “It’s not too much to ask people to follow our laws.”
Mr. Kaine, the lieutenant governor, called Mr. Kilgore’s position “a mean-spirited effort to go after people who are trying to make a living and to go after local officials who are trying to deal with a tough problem. I’m not going to second-guess the Herndon Town Council for making that call,” he said.
Mr. Kaine said he opposes illegal immigration and that the federal government hasn’t enforced its immigration laws.
“The immigration problem isn’t because of lax border patrols between Fairfax and Herndon,” he told the nearly 500 local business and government leaders who attended the debate.
The candidates also sparred over taxes.
Mr. Kilgore opposed last year’s tax plan, which set aside more than $1 billion for education. The plan raised some taxes and cut others. He had called for the plan to be put to voters in a referendum. The Republican-controlled General Assembly approved the tax plan.
When pressed by moderator Tim Russert of NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday, Mr. Kilgore said if elected, he would not roll back the tax increase. “I’m not going to rebattle the past,” he said.
Mr. Kilgore also criticized Mr. Kaine as a tax-raiser. “The only thing he worries about is the taxpayers taking away his right to raise more taxes,” Mr. Kilgore said.
Mr. Kaine said Mr. Kilgore is not credible when he promises to improve education because he opposed last year’s tax plan. “This man stood against us every step of the way,” he said. “The times demand a leader who will know when to cut, … demand a leader who will know when to invest.”
On abortion, Mr. Kaine says he opposes the practice because he is a Catholic. Mr. Kaine has vowed to uphold the law if elected.
“I decided I wasn’t going to give up my religious beliefs to get elected,” he said. He later noted that he would veto any legislation that “criminalizes women and their doctors for their health-care decisions.”
In response, Mr. Kilgore called Mr. Kaine a flip-flopper and criticized his campaign ads airing on radio stations in rural Virginia in which Mr. Kaine says he is pro-life.
“I’m a pro-life candidate running for governor. I don’t try to be two things to all people. I support a culture of life,” Mr. Kilgore said. “The candidate on this stage that cannot be trusted on this issue is Tim Kaine.”
In a heated exchange, Mr. Russert asked Mr. Kilgore if he would outlaw abortion if a new U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to do so.
When Mr. Kilgore said he didn’t want to answer such a hypothetical question, Mr. Russert then asked what he would do if the state legislature passed a tax increase. Mr. Kilgore said that he would veto it.
“That’s a hypothetical question,” Mr. Russert said as the audience applauded.
Mr. Kilgore later said that governors don’t have the ability to outlaw abortion, but that they do have total control over tax increases.
Last night, the Kilgore campaign told supporters in an e-mail that Mr. Russert showed “favoritism” toward Mr. Kaine at the debate.
Many in attendance said Mr. Kaine came off as the more composed candidate.
Princess Moss, president of the Virginia Education Association, gave the edge to Mr. Kaine and said Mr. Kilgore’s opposition to the tax increase made him someone who doesn’t “support making our public schools better.”
In July, observers at a debate hosted by the Virginia Bar Association gave the edge to Mr. Kilgore.
Independent gubernatorial candidate H. Russell Potts Jr., who was not allowed to debate the two major-party candidates yesterday, met Mr. Kaine afterward at the Virginia Education Forum, which also was held at the Hilton.
Mr. Kilgore has so far refused to meet Mr. Potts for a debate, saying Mr. Potts has no chance of winning the election.
Mr. Potts, a Republican state senator from Winchester, said as chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee he is the “go-to guy” on education.
Mr. Potts also criticized Mr. Kilgore for not debating him. He repeatedly referred to Mr. Kilgore as “Casper the ghost” and “empty chair.”
Mr. Potts criticized Mr. Kaine for failing to outline ways to pay for his campaign proposals, including one that would offer pre-kindergarten to all Virginia children. “Show me the money,” he said, throwing his hands in the air.
A poll conducted by The Washington Post last week showed Mr. Kilgore leading Mr. Kaine by four percentage points.
Mr. Potts had 5 percent polling support. If he fails to reach 15 percent in two statewide polls, he will not be included in the final debate, scheduled for Oct. 9.
The election is Nov. 8.