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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Posturing by Kaine, Kilgore may pull plug on TV debate; A1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

RICHMOND — Political junkies have been drooling at the prospect of a televised gubernatorial debate for months. Now it may not happen.

Representatives of Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine and Republican former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore are set to meet with debate organizers today to hash out the final details of Sunday’s event.

As it stands, the debate will be held at the studios of WWBT-TV in Richmond and sent via satellite to every television station in the state to broadcast live if they so choose.

But the debate may not take place at all if the two campaigns cannot work out their disagreements over a “no-use” rule for campaign footage. If agreed to, the rule would prohibit future use of debate footage in campaign commercials or on Web sites.

How the candidates look in this debate is make-or-break territory, according to Virginia Tech political science professor Craig Brians.

“For the Kilgore campaign, they really need that kind of exposure because of the kind of candidate he is,” Brians said. Folksy, “man of the people” campaigns thrive on getting that message across.

“If you hide from debates, that’s a really hard argument to sell,” he said. “If you come across that way in the debate, it can be very persuasive.”

But a significant miscue could feed an opponent’s negative TV ads for weeks, multiplying any damage done by a debate-night gaffe.

A “no-use” rule “would seem very hard to enforce,” Brians said. One campaign might sue the other for breach of contract if they violate the rule, but “I’m not sure the public would understand” why the suit was brought.

“They can see [the footage] on their TV,” he said.

The disagreement has led to a flurry of e-mail between the players, virtually all of which has been forwarded to the media by all sides.

Kilgore’s campaign wants a specific, binding, no-use rule in place before the debate.

“Without such a restriction, candidates would be tempted to spend the debate not discussing the issues, but trying to manufacture a ‘made-for-TV’ moment for later use in negative TV ads,” wrote Kilgore campaign manager Ken Hutcheson in a letter to Larry J. Sabato, who heads the University of Virginia’s Center For Politics and will serve as moderator.

Allowing for the re-use of debate footage would open the door for a stunt to get independent candidate H. Russell Potts Jr. into the debate, Hutcheson added.

“Perhaps Mr. Kaine planned to invite Russ Potts to attend the debate as his guest and then invite him onto the stage, creating a dramatic moment ripe for misrepresentation in a Kaine (or Potts) TV ad,” Hutcheson wrote.

“It is apparent that Tim Kaine and Russ Potts have more in common than just their enthusiasm for higher gas taxes; they seem to be in cahoots on debates, too,” he wrote.

Potts strategist Tom D’Amore reiterated his position Wednesday that the Republican state senator from Winchester is unfairly being excluded from the melee, but said his candidate wasn’t out of it yet.

“We plan on being in the debate,” he said.

The Center for Politics set a 15 percent, two-poll standard for participation. To date, Potts has polled no higher than 9 percent in any survey.

Both Sabato and the station have written to both players, saying it was their understanding — and Virginia tradition — that a no-use rule was in effect.

“For the October 9 debate, NBC-12 will not permit any candidate or campaign-related organization to use footage, audio, or still images from the debate in campaign related activities, including commercials and web sites,” wrote Nancy K. Smith, vice president of news for the station.

Kaine’s team will respect copyright law, but considers no-use a “new rule.” And there are larger issues at stake than just copyright.

“This sole statewide televised debate belongs to Virginia’s voters as much as it does to any private interests. As such, we question the need for any confidentiality agreement or protection beyond what the laws require, but that is a subject we can discuss,” wrote Mike Henry, Kaine’s campaign manager.

The dispute won’t keep Kaine from showing up, the campaign said.

“Let us be clear. We will abide by the debate format you previously proposed. We will abide by copyright laws that protect the rights of NBC-12. We will show up at NBC-12 on Sunday evening, October 9, for a statewide televised debate beginning at 7 p.m. Whether our opponent shows up for the debate is up to him,” Henry wrote.

Kilgore’s team wrote to organizers Wednesday, saying it was their interpretation that, if Kaine wouldn’t sign, he had withdrawn from the debate.

Both sides are set to meet with debate moderator Sabato today to hash out their differences.

If it happens, the debate can be seen locally on WVPT-51 at 7 p.m. Sunday.

Election Day is Nov. 8.