WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – In their first debate of the gubernatorial election year, Democrat Tim Kaine (search) and Republican Jerry Kilgore (search) traded barbed one-liners as they squared off on abortion, the death penalty and state spending.
Kaine, the lieutenant governor, said Saturday that he opposes abortion (search) — but would veto any bill to outlaw it in Virginia should a reconstituted U.S. Supreme Court reverse its 1973 ruling that legalized abortion.
"I think there is common ground on this issue because Virginians want to reduce abortion. I've not met a single person in Virginia who wants to increase abortion," Kaine said. "What we don't need to do in Virginia is criminalize the health care decisions of women and their doctors."
Kilgore, a former state attorney general, avoided a yes-or-no answer in the debate at the exclusive Greenbrier resort hotel, calling the question "total speculation." Both candidates said they favored some restrictions on abortions, including enacting a ban on the rarely used, late-term procedure abortion foes call "partial-birth abortion."
Kaine took the offensive on questions about public education and fiscal issues, portraying himself as the rightful heir to the popular Gov. Mark R. Warner (search), a Democrat barred by Virginia's Constitution from running for a second term.
"I know we can't leave the educational leadership of this commonwealth in the hands of one of the most persistent foes of education funding there is," Kaine said.
"Let me be clear: raising taxes does not equal leadership," Kilgore shot back, defending his opposition to the $1.4 billion tax increase a bitterly riven Legislature passed in 2004.
Kaine bristled when Kilgore, an enthusiastic supporter of the death penalty (search), suggested that Kaine's long-held disdain for capital punishment would result in Kaine's using the unchecked clemency power Virginia governors have. Kaine said icily that he would not "let anybody push me around for my religious views or question them."
"Jerry, the point is simply this: you don't trust a person of faith to follow their oath of office," Kaine said. "I view that oath like my wedding oath. I view it as an oath I'm not going to break."
Absent from the debate was independent H. Russell Potts Jr. (search), a state senator elected for three terms as a Republican.
"My mom and dad always taught me to only go to parties you're invited to," he said in a telephone interview.