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What Would Wilder Do?

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On Kaine: "You can't make a person over. Kaine is not a Bubba."

On Potts: "Flip! Flopped!" on many issues. Plus, Wilder adds, he'll never get his message out. "You gotta have the money."

And on the orangish shirt Kilgore sometimes sports: "Good Lord! Where'd he get that thing from? It makes people think all sorts of things, dontcha know."

In last week's seminar, Wilder, along with Virginia Commonwealth University professor and Acting Dean of the College of Humanities and Science Bob Holsworth, discussed the upcoming election with their admiring students.

All other things being equal, Holsworth says, Republicans have a much better shot at winning statewide office in Virginia than Democrats, who "had a guy in '89 who won," he says.

"The old man," Wilder says. His students laugh. One gives him the thumbs up.

Kilgore's task, Holsworth says, is to make the race a standard choice between Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal. Kaine, he says, is "running as Mark Warner's younger brother" and painting Kilgore as the "chief obstructionist" to progress.

The race remains close, Holsworth says, and has lacked "a defining moment." Until recently, that is, when Kilgore's campaign launched television ads that show relatives of murder victims questioning Kaine's commitment to carrying out the death penalty. "This is the biggest challenge Tim Kaine has had, in the entire campaign," Holsworth says. "Because he knows if he can't deal with this, he's gone."

Kaine's response, he notes, came in the form of a television ad in which he emphasizes his religious opposition to the death penalty and his willingness to carry out the law. That was a mistake, Wilder says: "He's already said that. It's not good enough."

Wilder says he would have said, "Society has a right to express its outrage. … To the extent that society expresses that right in the form of a law, that is my responsibility to support that law, as a law-abiding citizen as well as governor of the state." Leave out religion, he says. "How are your morals any better than mine? Or how are mine any better than yours?"

Wilder also demonstrates the technique of "pivoting" in a debate, which he says neither Kaine nor Kilgore was able to do in the recent debate.

Say the moderator asks you what you like about your opponent, Wilder says. The best response: "Well, I think he's a nice guy, but let me tell you what's more important!" And then you go on to talk about what you want to talk about, he explains.

VCU senior Natasha Tribbey listens, delighted. "That's how you do it! That's how you do it!" she says. Maybe the other guys should pay attention. — Melissa Scott Sinclair



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