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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Potts gets his debate, only with Kaine and later; A1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

Gubernatorial candidates Jerry Kilgore, Tim Kaine and Russ Potts will all debate on Sept. 13.

Just not at the same time.

Kaine, the Democratic nominee for governor, said Tuesday that he would share a stage somewhere with independent candidate Potts, a Republican state senator from Winchester, following his debate with Kilgore, the Republican nominee and former attorney general.

Potts and his campaign have long sought inclusion in debates between the two party-backed candidates, but Kilgore has steadfastly refused to take the stage with the senator.

Kilgore has said repeatedly that he’ll only debate a candidate “who has a chance of winning.” That has led to a cacophony of cries from editorial writers and pundits around the state demanding Potts share the stage.

Kaine, the state’s lieutenant governor, said in an e-mail to reporters Tuesday that while he understands the decision on Potts will be made by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, the public should hear all three men.

“There has been some internal discussion in recent days at the Chamber as to whether or not Russ Potts should be included. I will participate either way,” he said.

A group of 15 former chairmen of the chamber wrote a letter to the group last week, asking for the independent candidate to be included in the September session.

“I respect and will honor the rules established by the debate sponsors,” Kaine said. “But I look forward to debating the issues with both of my Republican opponents that day. Virginians deserve no less.”

Calls to Potts’ campaign weren’t immediately returned Tuesday, but the campaign has made Potts’ exclusion from debates a central issue in their message to the public.

The campaign frequently sends out e-mail “debate updates” to supporters.

Over at Camp Kilgore, reaction was mild.

“We will be very interested to see how they resolve the issue of who will raise taxes first,” joked Kilgore spokesman Tim Murtaugh.

What Kaine does after his appearance with Kilgore isn’t consequential to the debate scheduled beforehand.

“We’ll be debating Tim Kaine just as both campaigns agreed,” Murtaugh said.

Kaine’s campaign is simply trying to make political hay out of the debate over debates, he said. Tuesday’s announcement by Kaine was the first time the Democratic campaign had demonstrated any interest in having Potts on the stage, Murtaugh said.

“In the negotiations for the debate, the Kaine campaign never once mentioned including Russ Potts,” he said.

Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce spokesman Tony Howard said Tuesday that neither of the two participating campaigns have discussed any post-debate debate with the chamber.

The debate is one of three scheduled for this gubernatorial campaign. The first was held just across the West Virginia line at the Greenbrier Resort in July.

Kaine and Kilgore have agreed to debate around midday at the September event, sponsored by the Fairfax chamber. Tim Russert, the host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” will moderate the event.

Kaine, Kilgore and possibly Potts will meet again in October at a debate hosted by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and a Richmond television station.

Potts will be allowed to participate only if he manages to poll at 15 percent or higher in two separate surveys before the debate. To date, the campaign’s high-water mark has been a 9 percent result in a Mason-Dixon poll.

Top strategist Tom D’Amore said recently that any threshold test for inclusion simply isn’t fair to Potts or the voters of Virginia, because the senator will appear on the ballot.

October’s event is the only one scheduled to be televised statewide.

Election Day is Nov. 8.