Story by Chris Graham
The rhetoric does it. So do the newspaper and radio ads.
The Jerry Kilgore Republican gubernatorial campaign has cleary made referring to Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine as a liberal a point of emphasis.
The Democrat’s campaign can’t figure out why exactly that is – they just know to be on the lookout for the rather, ahem, liberal use of the L-word by those on the other side.
“They continue to do it because they don’t have anything else to talk about. Instead of campaigning on a positive vision for Virginia, they focus their time and energy on bringing up these false charges against Tim Kaine and hope that they will stick,” Kaine campaign spokesperson Delacey Skinner said.
That Kaine resists being labeled a liberal is beside the point, Bridgewater College political-science professor and political analyst David McQuilkin said.
“Why the Kilgore campaign does this is that they think that they can use this kind of strategy to get votes,” McQuilkin told The Augusta Free Press.
“It’s plain and simple. They think that it helps them by appealing to their base, one, and two, they want to try to make it harder for the person who is being labeled to forge an effective connection with the electorate,” McQuilkin said.
McQuilkin recalled his early days in academia in Georgia where candidates for public office often raced to be the first to label their opponents liberals. That doesn’t work as well these days given the virtual absence of self-professed liberals in the GOP that makes it harder for Democrats to try to box Republican rivals into a liberal corner.
The L-word attack is exclusively a Republican tactic in this day and age – and it worked well in 2000 and 2004 when George W. Bush and Karl Rove used it on Al Gore and John Kerry to distance the Democratic presidential candidates from moderate voters.
“People are consistently calling Tim Kaine a liberal because he is a liberal. There’s no way he can duck that now,” Kilgore campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh told the AFP.
“His recent efforts to reinvent himself because he’s running for governor are a sign that he has come to the realization that he needs to try to distance himself from his record. But people are going to know that and are going to be able to see right through him,” Murtaugh said.
Two of the key charges lobbed by the Kilgore camp pointing to Kaine being a liberal have to do with Kaine’s support of the 2004 tax-reform effort that resulted in effective tax increases for Virginians in the billion-dollar plus range and his work as a lawyer on two cases referred to him by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“They like to say that Tim Kaine is an ACLU lawyer. But the truth is that Tim was never a member of the ACLU and has never worked for the ACLU,” Skinner said.
“The closest contact that he has had with the ACLU was his work on two cases that were referred to him by the ACLU. One of those was a housing-discrimination case in which the people that he was representing had been discriminated against on the basis of their race. Regardless of your political beliefs, it is hard to criticize Tim for offering his services on a case of that nature,” Skinner said.
On the budget point, “Tim and Mark Warner inherited a difficult budget situation from their predecessors and were able in these trying circumstances to move forward with a forward-looking plan that protected the investments that the Commonwealth has made in education, transportation and other core areas. They were able to work with the General Assembly to save the state from the financial crisis that it was in. Jerry Kilgore fought this every step of the way,” Skinner said.
It may or may not stand to reason to call Tim Kaine a liberal – but don’t expect the Kilgore camp to tone down the noise on this anytime soon, McQuilkin said.
“It is a tried-and-true method. It works in primary elections, it works in general elections. Once the label sticks, it’s hard to shake it,” McQuilkin said.
Skinner suggested that the L-word strategy could end up backfiring for Kilgore.
“It does fire up the base, but I think they could be overestimating the power of that message,” Skinner said. “They keep playing it and playing to the point that they’re overplaying it.
“The average Virginia voter, Democratic, Republican or indepedent, doesn’t care about these labels. What they want is to hear your vision for the state and how you’re going to bring that vision into fruition,” Skinner said.