Kilgore Lost His Own Election

Conservative Republicans should be toasting some of the results from the Virginia elections, since they won two of the three statewide races last Tuesday. 

State Sen. Bill Bolling, one of the most conservative legislators in the Old Dominion, was elected lieutenant governor.  In defeating liberal former Democratic Rep. Leslie Byrne, Bolling ran on a traditional, no-holds-barred conservative platform.  He opposed any new taxes, took a strong pro-life stand, and unabashedly defended the 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms. 

State Delegate Bob McDonnell, another strongly conservative Republican, emerged from pre-election attacks intended to portray him as a Christian-right-wing extremist with a 2,000-vote margin in the state attorney general race (a result that will probably be challenged—unsuccessfully–in a recount).  In the final week of the campaign, McDonnell’s Democratic foe, State Delegate Creigh Deeds, ran highly personal television attack ads focusing on the fact that McDonnell had earned a law degree from Pat Robertson’s Regent University that televangelist Robertson had contributed $36,000 to McDonnell‘s campaign.

Gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore was the only Republican loser in Virginia’s three statewide races.

Didn’t Sign Tax Pledge

As his unswervingly conservative GOP ticket mates Bolling and McDonnell were emerging triumphant, Atty. Gen. Kilgore was losing the governorship by a margin of 52% to 46% to Democrat Tim Kaine, who serves as lieutenant governor to popular outgoing Democratic Gov. Mark Warner. 

Kilgore’s defeat by Kaine—on whose behalf Warner stumped tirelessly—has been widely trumpeted by national Democrats as a sign that Republicans in general are in political hot water for the 2006 mid-term elections.  Pointing out that President Bush made an appearance in Virginia on Kilgore’s behalf on the eve of the election, Democrats have even claimed that Kilgore’s defeat was somehow caused by Bush—and was thus a rejection of conservatism in a Red State. 

The facts show that this is moonshine. 

In striking contrast to his two Republican running mates—and to Bush himself in his winning campaign against John Kerry last year—Kilgore not only failed to deploy the tested conservative issues of taxes, abortion, and guns but actually seemed to run away from them.  As one Republican Party leader from the nominee’s own Southwest Virginia home area told me:  “Jerry attacked Kaine, all right, but never spelled out what he was in favor of.  This was the worst campaign [for governor] that was ever run!”

While Kilgore repeatedly said he opposed any new taxes, he refused to sign the pledge of Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform that puts in writing a vow never to raise present taxes or support new ones.  According to ATR spokesman Chris Butler, “Grover and the rest of us repeatedly urged Mr. Kilgore to sign the pledge, but he wouldn’t do it. 

Neither would Mr. Kaine.  So when you have two candidates who won’t sign the taxpayer-friendly pledge, you essentially have taken the issue of no-new-taxes off the table.  And that, historically, works against Republicans.” 

The conservative Bolling, by contrast, proudly signed the ATR pledge.  Noting that Bolling won 40,000 more votes than Kilgore, Butler said:  “Had Mr. Kilgore signed the pledge, he would have won.” 

Similarly, Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America said:  “Kilgore’s attitude toward gun-owners is typical of a lot of Republicans—they like having us at the dance, but feel we’re too ugly to dance with.”  While voicing support for the 2nd Amendment and for measures favored by gun owners such as conceal-and-carry legislation, Kilgore, according to Pratt, “refused to fill out our questionnaire.”

Like Butler, Pratt contrasted Kilgore’s stand with that of Bolling.  “I was at the home of a prominent Asian-American businessman in McLean [Va.], at which Bolling raised more than $50,000—mostly from the Asian community,” recalled Pratt.  “And in his remarks, he struck a resonant chord by stating his strong support for the 2nd Amendment.”

The pro-life community was also put off by what seemed to be Kilgore’s refusal to embrace their issue strongly—albeit while vocalizing his opposition to abortion save in cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother.  During a debate moderated by NBC-TV’s Tim Russert, the Republican nominee refused to say if he would sign a bill to outlaw abortion in Virginia if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.  On the weekend before the balloting, the Kilgore camp sent out a confusing message in commercials that said that their man had “consistently upheld the law on sensitive issues like abortion.”

Historically, off-year gubernatorial elections are not political weathervanes.  In 2001, Democrats also won the governorships in Virginia and New Jersey—and Republicans gained in both the House and Senate in mid-term elections in 2002.  As to any message that came from Virginia’s results, it might be the admonition to players of the late University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal:  “Dance with who brung you.”