Virginians Elect Democrat Kaine for Governor Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine strongly defeats Republican challenger Jerry Kilgore in Virginia's gubernatorial election. President Bush made a last-minute campaign appearance on behalf of Kilgore, but it wasn't enough.
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Virginians Elect Democrat Kaine for Governor

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Virginians Elect Democrat Kaine for Governor

Virginians Elect Democrat Kaine for Governor

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Of all the elections across the country yesterday, the most closely watched may have been in Virginia. The governor's race there was only one of a handful of major elections and it was seen as a vote that could go either way. As a Southern state, Virginia has elected many Republicans in recent years, and, just last year, it voted for President Bush. But in this election, even an appearance by the president could not stop a Democratic governor who wanted to elect a Democratic successor, his lieutenant governor. Here's NPR's Brian Naylor.

BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:

Virginia Governor Mark Warner and Lieutenant Governor Tim Kaine appeared on stage at a victory rally in Richmond last night, just as they had been throughout the campaign in the past several months, side by side. Warner, who is forbidden by law from succeeding himself, has a favorability rating hovering around 80 percent, and Kaine promised voters that electing him would mean a continuation of the centrist policies Warner has pursued. It was a winning strategy. Last night, Kaine said the second consecutive Democratic win in this Republican-leaning state was, as he put it, no fluke.

Governor-elect TIM KAINE (Democrat, Virginia): We proved that Virginians want a government that puts partisanship aside and governs from what is sensible and commonsensical. We proved that people are more interested in fiscal responsibility than ideological bickering. We proved that faith in God is a value for all and that we can all share regardless of our partisan label.

NAYLOR: There were no overarching issues. Instead, the candidates focused on character. Republican Jerry Kilgore, a former attorney general, charged Kaine couldn't be trusted to carry out the state's death penalty. He aired a much-criticized TV ad in which a father, whose son and daughter-in-law were murdered, said Kaine would spare even Adolf Hitler. Last night, Kilgore was gracious in defeat. He said he would continue to fight for Republican issues.

Mr. JERRY KILGORE (Republican Candidate for Governor, Virginia): We fought hard. We fought diligently for lower taxes, for limited government, for trusting the people, for the values and division that defines our Republican Party. And, folks, that fight is not over.

NAYLOR: Kilgore raised a record amount of money in the race, some $22 million. He also hosted an 11th-hour appearance by President Bush who addressed a Richmond campaign rally Monday night. The Kilgore campaign hoped the president would inspire the GOP base to turn out in the off-year election, but with the president's popularity in Virginia at a low ebb, it was clearly a roll of the dice for Kilgore and the White House, and it may have backfired. For instance, one Democrat, who refused to give her name, said the president's appearance on behalf of Kilgore helped motivate her to vote for Kaine.

Unidentified Woman: Actually, it did. It did. Kind of anything against Bush is the direction that I'm headed in.

NAYLOR: Another Democrat, Susan Newton of Arlington, said she voted for Kaine in part because she felt he would continue on the path laid out by Warner.

Ms. SUSAN NEWTON (Democrat Voter): The policies that he carried out and what I think that--and the candidate that I think would probably carry those out best.

NAYLOR: In fact, aside from Kaine, the big winner last night may have been Mark Warner, says political analyst Mark Rozell of George Mason University.

Mr. MARK ROZELL (George Mason University): Given Mark Warner's enormous popularity right now and Tim Kaine's message to stay the course and continue the policies of the Warner administration, I think that was the most persuasive case that the Democratic campaign could make this time. So a lot of people are going to see this in part as Mark Warner's victory and that's certainly going to enhance his stature as he looks toward another campaign possibly in 2008 for the presidency.

NAYLOR: What this means for Republicans is less certain. Clearly, yesterday's win by Democrats is yet another heaping of bad news for Mr. Bush, whose polling numbers are at their lowest of his presidency. But what happened in Virginia may not be all that much of a harbinger. After all, four years ago, Democrat Warner won but Republicans actually gained seats in the following year's congressional elections. Brian Naylor, NPR News.

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