The two major-party candidates for Virginia governor clashed on the death penalty and taxes during a televised debate Sunday night that included several rancorous exchanges.

Republican Jerry Kilgore (search), the former state attorney general, insisted that Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine (search) could not be trusted to enforce the death penalty and to not raise taxes.

Kaine, who is Roman Catholic, said his religious objections to capital punishment would not affect his decisions on the issue. He did not promise not to raise taxes and suggested Kilgore's demand for a voter referendum on all tax increase proposals showed poor leadership.

"You've got to have backbone to lead if you want to be governor," Kaine said.

Kilgore said Kaine, the lieutenant governor and former Richmond mayor, has a history of speaking against the death penalty and once supported a moratorium on executions.

Kaine acknowledged that "my faith informs what I do," but said he could be trusted to uphold his oath of office and enforce Virginia's laws. "I treat my oath like I treat my wedding vow," Kaine said.

Kaine, who is running as the logical heir to popular Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner (search), invoked Warner's name more than a half-dozen times during the hourlong debate. He said they worked together to straighten out the state's finances while Kilgore "fought against every bit of progress we've made."

Kilgore opposed the $1.4 billion tax increase that Warner and Kaine pushed through the Legislature in 2004.

"It's time for Tim Kaine to stand on his record," Kilgore said.

Part of that record, he said repeatedly, included presiding over the state's second-worst performing schools as Richmond mayor.

"Jerry, you disrespect the hardworking parents and children in the Richmond school system," Kaine shot back. "You really owe them an apology."

The debate between Kaine and Kilgore was their last scheduled one-on-one meeting before the Nov. 8 election. It was co-sponsored by the University of Virginia Center for Politics and Richmond television station WWBT.

Independent candidate Russ Potts (search) was excluded because he failed to receive at least 15 percent in two statewide polls, as required by debate organizers.

Potts, elected to the state Senate as a Republican, lost a federal lawsuit seeking a place in the debate. Another television station planned to tape Potts' responses to the debate questions and air them later.

Warner is prevented by the state constitution from seeking a second consecutive term. The November election is one of only two governor's races in the nation this year. The other is in New Jersey.