Either Virginia sportsmen are the key to winning the 2005 Virginia governor’s race – or Tim Kaine and Jerry Kilgore are plumb running out of ideas.
“Neither one has been able to get any traction with voters, so they’re grasping at straws. They’re grasping at the sportsmen issue. They’re trying anything that they can do to identify with voters,” said Bob Roberts, a political-science professor at James Madison University, referring to the announcements from both major-party gubernatorial candidates regarding the formation of sportsmen support committees.
The model for reaching out to the sportsmen vote is Mark Warner’s 2001 Sportsmen for Warner committee – which is credited with helping Warner, a Democrat, gain support in rural Virginia and the Republican-leaning outer suburbs of Washington, D.C., in his race with Republican Mark Earley.
The Democrat Kaine was the first of the ’05 big-ticket candidates to follow in Warner’s footsteps – announcing the formation of a Sportsmen for Kaine committee last week.
Kilgore, a Republican, followed on Tuesday with the unveiling of his own Sportsmen for Kilgore committee – in a pair of news conferences in which the former attorney general blasted his rival’s positions on gun issues.
“It’s one of the important differences between Tim Kaine and me, is our support, or lack of support, in his case, for the Second Amendment,” Kilgore told The Augusta Free Press. “I’ve always supported the rights of law-abiding gun owners to keep and bear arms, and I always will. It’s part of who I am. I grew up in rural Virginia. I don’t just come to rural Virginia to get votes in an election year. It’s where I’m from. It’s where I go home to.
“There’s a big difference between Tim Kaine and Jerry Kilgore,” Kilgore said. “There’s even a big difference between Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, in that Tim Kaine has a record of opposing gun rights and the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.”
Kilgore’s statements sound very much like those he has been offering on the stump for months now to assail Kaine’s record on gun issues. Kaine campaign spokesperson Delacey Skinner noted that Kilgore seems to have little else to say about sportsmen’s issues than to talk about guns.
“If you look at the focus of what he had to say, it’s what we’ve come to expect out of Jerry Kilgore, which is not a whole lot of talk about positive vision, not a lot of talk about what he’s going to do for the sportsmen of Virginia. It’s just a lot of talk about Tim Kaine,” Skinner told the AFP.
“Tim Kaine supports Second Amendment rights. He is not going to propose any new antigun laws. He is going to protect Second Amendment rights. And no amount of shrieking on the part of the Kilgore campaign is going to change any of that,” Skinner said.
Kaine’s sportsmen agenda, Skinner said, focuses on gun rights, one, and two, on environmental protections that will ensure that sportsmen can continue enjoying their time outdoors.
“No matter what part of the state you live in, there are people who enjoy the outdoors, who enjoy hunting, who enjoy fishing, and they’re interested in knowing that their right to own a gun is going to be protected,” Skinner said. “They’re also interested in knowing that the environment that they enjoy spending time in is going to be protected. Which is something that was noticeably absent from Jerry’s announcement. And if you ask any sportsmen, any hunter, any fisherman, and they’ll tell you that if the environment isn’t being protected, there isn’t much there for them to enjoy.”
Kilgore countered that “rural voters are smarter than Tim Kaine wants to give them credit for.”
“The sportsmen’s coalition is about protecting gun rights. He wants people to think it’s about something else, but it is about protecting gun rights,” Kilgore said. “There are bills filed every session to take away guns and bring more restrictions on guns. He’s talking about canoeing, but I haven’t seen a bill being filed to take away your right to canoe. I support all those recreational activities, and think they’re great. But this sportsmen organization is here to protect gun rights.
“Just because you talk the talk doesn’t mean you’ve ever walked the walk,” Kilgore said. “We get it with Tim Kaine. Everybody gets it in rural Virginia with Tim Kaine. He’s a big-city mayor, and he’s never been on our side on this issue.”
Gun issues “are always going to be a key part of Virginia political strategy for statewide elections,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political-science professor at the University of Mary Washington.
“If you want to run for statewide office in Virginia, people want to know where you stand on guns. And if you are a Democrat, in a way you have to try harder to convince the voters in the state that you are gun-friendly or hunter-friendly,” Farnsworth told the AFP.
“What you’ve seen in the past few days is an aggressive effort by the Kaine campaign to do what Mark Warner did four years ago to present the case that this Democrat is not hostile to gun ownership. It’s an essential part of a successful electoral strategy for Democrats. Republicans have to figure out ways to convince voters that Democrats are less gun-friendly than Republicans, and that the Democratic claims of being pro-gun are not genuine,” Farnsworth said.
Roberts sees the issue differently.
“Virginia gun laws are so lax as it is that it doesn’t help a candidate to say ‘I’m for guns’ because there’s no indication that anybody is against guns,” Roberts told the AFP.
“What the Kilgore people would like to do is portray Kaine as being antigun, but there isn’t any indication that he is. He could be, but even if he was, it wouldn’t make any difference,” Roberts said.
“People are preoccupied with the fact that gasoline prices are going to go through the roof. That’s what they’re concerned about. They’re not going to be concerned about guns when they’re paying $3.50 a gallon for gas. That’s what they’re going to be looking for the candidates to address. How are you going to help us out? Pocketbook issues are more important than guns or abortions or gay marriage,” Roberts said.