Both Mark Warner and Jim Gilmore spent Labor Day at the parade in Buena Vista, where modern Virginia fall campaigns have traditionally started:
BUENA VISTA, Va., Sept. 1 — Virginia’s top Senate candidates clashed verbally after marching in this city’s annual Labor Day parade, kicking off a general election campaign that threatens to become overshadowed by the commonwealth’s increasingly important role in the presidential election.
The parade, long considered a must for Virginia politicians, drew Democrat Mark R. Warner and his Republican opponent, James S. Gilmore III, two former governors, who traded barbed remarks after heading down Magnolia Avenue with other parade participants.
Gilmore said Warner is ducking a statewide televised debate and accused him of demeaning home-schoolers as well as gun-rights and antiabortion activists in a 1994 speech. Warner, who said he is still considering taking part in televised debates, shot back by accusing Gilmore of being “all about partisanship.”
Gilmore seized on Warner’s decision not to attend a League of Women Voters-sponsored debate that would have been aired statewide. “He doesn’t want his positions known to the people of Virginia,” Gilmore said. “He covers up his positions on the issues because if he runs on his positions, he loses. In fact, he is not electable.”
One Republican strategist, though, is saying that Gilmore is being hypocritical in attacking Warner over the debate issue:
Republican strategist J. Kenneth Klinge called GOP Senate candidate James S. Gilmore “a hypocrite” today over Gilmore’s criticism of Mark R. Warner for not yet agreeing to a statewide, televised debate.
Klinge, an ally of U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), noted that Gilmore refused to debate his opponent for the Republican nomination, Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), in the weeks leading up to the state GOP convention in June.
“I am sick and tired of seeing (Gilmore) act like something he isn’t,” said Klinge, who has been critical of Gilmore in the past. “On this subject, he is definitely a hypocrite.”
On Monday, Gilmore said it’s not fair to compare his stance on debates with Warner, the Democratic nominee for Senate, to the one he held this spring. Gilmore noted that only 5,000 delegates selected the GOP nominee whereas several million people will vote in the general election.
“We had a small universe of people” during the nomination fight, Gilmore said. “This is a debate for the entire population. This is where the difference is.”
Klinge, who work behind the scenes in support of Marshall at the GOP convention, responded by saying, “Boss Tweed used to say, ‘I don’t care who gets elected as long as you let me pick the candidates’.”
“His argument that this was just a convention and only 5,000 people showed up is just fallacious,” Klinge said of Gilmore.
As things stand, Gilmore’s complaints about debate scheduling don’t look like they’re going anywhere, and they honestly don’t sound like the kind of stuff you hear from a campaign that actually thinks it has a chance of winning.
And, in all honesty, it’s hard to muster alot of excitement about a Senate race that appears to be pretty much over.
What is interesting, though, is the evidence in Buena Vista of yet more Warner supporters for McCain, or at least against Obama:
“I just think we’ve got a sad situation when we have someone like Obama running for president,” said Lucille Feazell, 84, of Buena Vista, who declined to elaborate. “I’m on the fence about John McCain. Everyone thinks he will be another Bush, and I am still not sure if he will have his own ideas.”
Ruth Fitzgerald, 80, said she is a “born and raised” Democrat. But she said she might not vote this year because she is not enthusiastic about Obama. “If I vote, I’ll vote for him, but I wanted Hillary,” said Fitzgerald, referring to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).
But there are signs Obama is making inroads with traditional Democrats in Buena Vista.
“I’m a Democrat. He’s a Democrat. He’s for the middle class, and it’s time for change,” said Mark Smith, 43, of Buena Vista.
When Mildred Hartless, 78, was asked whom she plans to vote for, she responded: “Bahama, Omama or whatever his name his.”
“I like him. I really do,” she said, adding: “But I really like Warner. I hope in four years or eight years, he is running for president. “
Will Mark Warner be able to convince these people to pull the lever for Obama as well as him ? If he does, then Virginia may actually go blue this year after all.