“Two years ago, or a year ago,” Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine told a Waynesboro audience last month, “if you would’ve asked Larry Sabato or one of these pundits, tell us about the governor’s race, they would have said, Look, Tim Kaine is a great guy, he’s a hard worker, but he’s going to have a hard time winning. It’s a Republican state, and he doesn’t have Mark Warner’s checkbook. It’s going to be hard for him to win.
“You ask those same folks now, and what they say is, a year ago, Kaine was a big underdog, but now it’s neck and neck,” Kaine said.
So we asked one of the pundits – and though the presumptive Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee in 2005 didn’t have what Matt Smyth of the University of Virginia Center for Politics said down word for word, he was awfully darn close.
“As recently as six months ago, Jerry Kilgore was seen as the favorite, if not a significant favorite,” Smyth told The Augusta Free Press. “But since then, Kaine has done an incredible job of matching Kilgore in terms of fund-raising. And that’s very important. Money might not be the most important thing in an election, but it guarantees that you’ll be able to get your message out.”
Indeed, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, Kaine is going almost dollar for dollar with his Republican Party rival on the fund-raising front – having compiled $3.22 million in contributions to the attorney general’s $3.36 million.
Kaine is also in the running in the early polls. An October survey conducted by the Washington, D.C.,-based Mason-Dixon firm had Kilgore ahead of Kaine by a 40 percent to 35 percent margin among likely voters.
Kilgore, for his part, isn’t too concerned about the perception that the race for the governor’s mansion might be tighter right now than it would have been expected to be.
“I’m pleased with where I am at this point,” Kilgore told the AFP.
“We’ve been working very hard for the president and making sure that the organization is in place for President Bush,” said Kilgore, who is serving as the chairman of the Bush-Cheney Virginia re-election effort. “It’s also very important looking ahead to be organized and to be looking ahead to good policy and the vision that we’re going to take next year throughout the 12 months that we’re on the campaign trail.”
The results of tomorrow’s election aren’t projected to have much more than a token impact on what is to come next November. Win or lose in the ’04 race between George Bush and John Kerry, national Republicans will want to try to influence the Virginia race, Smyth said, because of the fact that the Old Dominion is seen as being a conservative state that, if Kaine were to win in ’05, would have gone Democratic at the gubernatorial level two election cycles in a row.
“They will be inclined to marshal their resources to try to play a role in Virginia for that reason,” Smyth said.
With a mirror-image motivation as their guide, Democrats both statewide and nationally will want to do everything they can to try to guarantee that the party maintains its hold on the governor’s mansion.
Kaine conceded as much in an interview with the AFP.
“As soon as the presidential race is over, we’re in the spotlight,” he said. “The Virginia governor’s race is one of only two big races in the United States in 2005. It’s the Virginia governor’s race and the New Jersey governor’s race. There are no federal races and no other state races. It’s going to be a real marquee race.”