Fitch waging solo campaign for GOP nod

Story by Chris Graham

Somebody forgot to tell George Fitch that he was supposed to have given up on his bid for the Republican Party gubernatorial nomination a long time ago.

“I’ve got another 10,000 miles between now and the primary,” said Fitch, the Warrenton mayor, who is waging the most grassroots of campaigns for the party nod.

He has already rung up 7,500 miles on Virginia’s highways and byways in his self-described “unconventional” run at the governor’s mansion – which he has been forced to wage solo.

“We can all speculate here as to why he’s avoiding me,” said Fitch, whose opponent for the nomination, former attorney general Jerry Kilgore, has paid him scant attention since Fitch entered the race earlier this year.

“It’s risky to dismiss my candidacy. But when you do that, you’re dismissing the voters. Ignore me, but at your peril, because when you ignore me, you’re ignoring the voters,” Fitch told The Augusta Free Press during a Wednesday campaign stop in Waynesboro.

“I certainly wouldn’t adopt that strategy. But I guess that he’s decided that that’s his best strategy,” Fitch said.

Kilgore, for his part, is focused on presumptive Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee Tim Kaine, the state’s lieutenant governor.

“We’re focused on our own campaign, and our opponent is Tim Kaine,” Kilgore campaign spokesman Tucker Martin told the AFP.

University of Virginia Center for Politics analyst Matt Smyth isn’t so sure that the Kilgore strategy is a bad strategy to follow.

“If you’re the clear frontrunner, like Kilgore is in this race, engaging a candidate who isn’t as well known and isn’t a threat to the nomination only helps to legitimize that candidate,” Smyth told the AFP.

“It makes sense, then, to see Jerry Kilgore taking the approach, in effect, of ignoring Mayor Fitch. I don’t know that there’s a downside to that strategy unless something serious were to come out that he were to have to respond to. And at this stage in the campaign, that appears to be highly unlikely,” Smyth said.

One advantage for Fitch resulting from the hands-off approach of Kilgore, Smyth said, is the free rein that he gets to delve into policy matters.

“What I’m offering the average voter is something that they want, which is to tackle the tough issues. I’m not hiding behind soundbites, just saying that I believe in less government, family values and low taxes. They want somebody that’s going to propose specific solutions that is going to make their life better and make Virginia a better place to live,” Fitch said.

“So they like that bold candidacy because they really are frustrated with the business-as-usual approach in Richmond that’s just not getting the job done,” Fitch said.

“Everybody’s going to say low taxes, but they can look at me and say, hey, this guy has actually done this. He’s got a track record, he’s got a record of accomplishment. So when he says he can reform spending, well, he’s obviously done that. And that’s what they want to take to Richmond to do on a statewide level. So when they pull that curtain to see if the emperor has any clothes on, they actually see somebody with substance, who has done the things that he has proposed to do at the statewide level,” Fitch said.

Fitch’s success in Warrenton, where he has served as mayor for six years, is enough to impress Waynesboro City Councilman Tim Williams, who on Wednesday endorsed Fitch in next month’s party primary.

“I am wholeheartedly and enthusiastically endorsing George Fitch for governor,” said Williams, a Republican who was elected in 2004.

“As the Warrenton mayor, he has cut business taxes by more than 20 percent, personal-property taxes by 55 percent, reduced the real-estate taxes by 80 percent, and today they enjoy commercial growth, business growth and surpluses. I’m enthused about him. He’s not a status-quo candidate. I wish him all the luck in the June 14 primary,” Williams said.

Fitch might need a bit of luck as he works toward primary day.

“Traditionally in Virginia, our governors have come from attorney generals and lieutenant governors. But I believe, and I think people believe, it’s time for somebody who’s led a government, no matter how small, who’s been in the trenches, who’s been on the front line dealing with these issues that are going to affect them, education, transportation and public safety, the taxes, and they know that a lawyer is not going to do as good a job as a businessman in running our government,” Fitch said.

“That’s a stark contrast between Jerry and myself. Do you want a lawyer to run your government, or do you want a businessman who has successfully reformed a government? It’s your choice,” Fitch said.

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