Third-Party Challenge Could Help Virginia??¢â???¬â???¢s Kilgore

A liberal Republican state senator running for governor of Virginia as a third-party candidate now seems more likely to drain votes from Democratic nominee Tim Kaine than from Republican Jerry Kilgore in what promises to be a very close gubernatorial election next month.

Should eccentric state Sen. Russell Potts, who takes left-of-center stands on cultural and economic issues, stay in the race as an independent candidate, said University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato, he will “take more votes from Kaine than Kilgore” and help the Republican win.

“Russell Potts has virtually no support, but if he gets any significant percentage of votes, he might be able to deliver something to [Kilgore],” said Sabato, an expert on Virginia politics.

According to the latest Mason-Dixon poll, former state Atty. Gen. Kilgore holds a wafer-thin 41%-to-40% lead over Kaine, who is lieutenant governor under lame-duck Democratic Gov. Mark Warner. The 61-year-old Potts is at 6%, and even a couple of points could make the difference in a tight race.

Sabato said Potts will take more votes from Kaine than Kilgore “because he’s well to the left on social issues and emphasizes it.” Potts is not only strongly pro-abortion but has also come out in favor of gay adoption. Because his pro-abortion stand is so clear, while Kaine will say only that he won’t work to change Virginia’s abortion laws, the Virginia chapter of NARAL Pro-Choice America has remained neutral in the race.

In the past, Potts has flip-flopped on the issue. “I remember when he first ran for the state legislature in 1991 and said he was 100% pro-life,” said Sabato.

Potts was also one of a handful of Republicans in the state legislature who supported $1.4 billion in new taxes proposed by Warner in 2004. Tellingly, his top strategist is Tom D’Amore, who helped elect one-time Republican Sen. Lowell Weicker governor of Connecticut in 1990 on an independent ticket. Weicker went on to push his state’s first income tax through the legislature.

Virginia Republican and Democratic leaders generally echoed Sabato’s analysis. “Tim Kaine and Russell Potts are both competing for the hearts and souls of the extreme liberal wing of the Virginia Democratic Party,” said Virginia Republican Party Chairwoman Kate Obenshain Griffin. “Jerry Kilgore is the only candidate who supports lower taxes, stronger educational standards, and the culture of life.”

“I always thought Potts posed a greater threat to Kaine than Kilgore, even though he is running as the anti-Kilgore Republican,” added former Democratic Chairman Paul Goldman.