Candidates spar today, sans Potts; B1
By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)
If Virginia’s pundits are right, today’s debate between Republican Jerry Kilgore and Democrat Tim Kaine is all about expectations — exceeding expectations for Kilgore, meeting them for Kaine.
The former attorney general and lieutenant governor will spar this morning at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., the site for this year’s Virginia Bar Association annual gathering.
Kilgore staffers and other Republicans have been doing their best to build up Kaine’s reputation as a slick-talking trial law-yer who is a master of the spoken word and more than a match for Kilgore, who also is a lawyer.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have been trying to shift the focus from the low performance expectations for Kilgore to his decision to participate in only two debates, neither of which will be televised.
The expectations game is a popular strategy, particularly if a candidate could truly be outclassed on the stump, said Bill Shendow, director of the Marsh Institute for Government and Public Policy at Shenandoah University.
“Kilgore has managed to set the bar low enough that he should clear it without any problem,” said Norman Leahy, the former executive director of U.S. Term Limits.
“Kaine, conversely, has been painted as the golden-tongued wonder of Central Virginia. That works against him.”
Even if one of the two men completely mops the floor with his opponent, not very many people will be paying attention without television coverage.
Kaine’s camp has been saying for weeks that Kilgore is scared to debate where he can be seen. Other Democrats — and independent candidate state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester, picked up the call Friday.
“The closed-door session of lawyers in West Virginia does not count as a debate,” Potts says in a statement to reporters. Potts has sought inclusion in any debates, but Kilgore has refused to appear on stage with him, saying he’ll only debate “a candidate who has a chance of winning.”
According to Potts, “99.99 percent of Virginians will not have access to the forum. Unfortunately that is Jerry Kilgore’s strategy.”
“I’d like to remind my opponents that we are the candidates for governor of Virginia, not West Virginia,” Potts adds. “I hope Tim and Jerry will send a post card of their wild and wonderful time in West Virginia. Unlike my opponents, my campaign is focused on Virginia’s present geography.”
Potts will be speaking to the Virginia Parent Teacher Association Convention and Virginia National Organization for Women Convention today.
Partisans in the Mountain State got in on the act as well. The West Virginia Democratic Party issued a statement chastising Kilgore’s camp for putting up signs in White Sulphur Springs, and pointing out that state law prohibits attaching signs to utility poles.
“West Virginians can’t vote for Jerry Kilgore,” said Chairman Nick Casey. “Not only was this silly sign game a gigantic waste of money and manpower, it’s just plain bad manners to vandalize a town in which you’re a visitor.”
Will any of today’s talking have an impact on November?
“It’ll be a very limited audience,” said Shenandoah University’s Shendow.
Bob Griendling, a Northern Virginia political activist and author of the Democratic-leaning blog “Commonwealth Commonsense,” said he agreed.
Kilgore will likely come out on top because of the expectations game, he said, but “the only people who’ll know how he does will be [University of Virginia political scientist] Larry Sabato and [anonymous blogger] Not Larry Sabato,” he said.
“It’s July, people are on vacation. It’s Saturday. People are not sitting around watching the television or listening to the radio,” he said. “They’re either coming from the beach or going to the beach.”
“In some ways, they are like NASCAR races for wonks — the candidates go around and around, but all we really want to see are the verbal smash-ups,” added Leahy.