Death penalty fires up governor's race; B1
Daily Staff Writer
Jerry Kilgore and Tim Kaine continued their fight over the death penalty on Wednesday, as Kilgore, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, continued to ride a wave of momentum from new television ads.
But Kaine’s campaign isn’t taking the attacks lying down.
Kilgore’s campaign released two new ads on Tuesday in which the families of two murder victims explain why they don’t trust Kaine, the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor, to carry out a death sentence.
Kaine has said that he opposes the death penalty because of his Roman Catholic faith, but, as governor, would sign death warrants when they reached his desk.
The two campaigns continued their sparring Wednesday, fielding opposing sets of prosecutors.
“I don’t believe there’s any [doubt] that the death penalty works to keep Virginian’s safe,” said Todd Gilbert, a newly minted assistant Warren County commonwealth’s attorney and candidate for the 15th District House of Delegates seat.
One of the ads, which takes Kaine to task for handling the appeals of a convicted murderer sentenced to death row, is out of bounds, according to some Kaine supporters. The future lieutenant governor, then an attorney in Richmond, was just doing his duty — zealously representing his client.
Nobody’s disputing the fact that death-row inmates deserve help, said Halifax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Kim White.
“Every single defendant in our courts deserves to have good representation, [but] I don’t think that’s what the [Kilgore] ad is commenting upon,” she said. Instead, it’s about Kaine trying to “clean up his death penalty message.”
“In a death penalty case, if you accept representation of someone, you know you’re going to have to take a stand that the death penalty is unconstitutional,” she said.
“For him to have [represented condemned inmates] voluntarily, not being court appointed … it cuts to his honesty. It gives us an insight into what he’s going to do when that death penalty case hits his desk.”
Camp Kaine responded with a list of Roman Catholic governors who have carried out executions.
“Yesterday, Jerry Kilgore said that people whose faith says the death penalty is wrong or those who have represented death penalty cases aren’t ‘entitled’ to serve as governor,” the campaign says in a press release.
At the top of the list is Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has made the same argument of duty versus faith as Kaine. North Carolina’s Mike Easley and California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger are also cited as Catholic governors who have signed death warrants.
The Kilgore ads have completely changed the tenor of the race, according to some political scientists.
“I think these are some of the most powerful ads that we’ve seen in recent Virginia political history,” said Robert Holsworth, dean of the Douglas L. Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University. “They have changed the nature of the campaign. They have posed the most serious challenge to the Kaine campaign to date.”
“Up till now, he’s been running very well on Mark Warner’s coattails, you might say,” Holsworth said. “This commercial challenges him to explain to Virginia voters why they should vote for Tim Kaine.”
“He could stop the ads, he could stop the death penalty discussion by threatening to run one ad,” said Craig Brians, a political scientist at Virginia Tech.
Kaine could “produce an ad that says, ‘Going clear back to Thomas Jefferson, [Virginia] has a tradition of religious tolerance. I’m being attacked by Jerry Kilgore for being a person of faith. Let’s end this Christian persecution in Virginia right now,” Brians said.
“That would shut [Kilgore] up so fast,” he said. Such an attack “could be devastating to Kilgore.”
Kaine is in a tight spot, but calling Kilgore’s ads religious persecution might be a bridge too far, according to some observers.
“It’s a tough one, it really is. Right now the polls indicate that the election is statistically tied,” said Mark Rozell, a professor of political science at George Mason University.
Kaine has to “get off the defensive,” Rozell said. But claiming religious persecution could be “inflammatory.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be an effective way to mobilize a lot of voters for Kaine’s candidacy,” he said.
Election Day is Nov. 8.