Virginia accents: Kilgore, Kaine talk about tal

In the Tim Kaine-Jerry Kilgore Virginia gubernatorial campaign, the "accent issue" has now gone national. It's not hard to figure out why.

"It's getting national media attention now because it's an odd story," says University of Mary Washington political science professor Stephen Farnsworth. "It's unusual to see candidates squabbling over accents."

Farnsworth says the matter reminds him of his days as a reporter for The Kansas City Star.

"Every so often," he says, "there would be a controversy over how to pronounce the word Missouri. Was it Missour-i, or Missour-a? The candidates would go back and forth over the issue, just like you're seeing here, because it signified the rural-urban split in the state."

But that's not how independent gubernatorial candidate Russ Potts sees the local tempest.

"I think this emphasizes the irrelevance of this whole stupid issue and the immaturity and lack of political and life experience on the part of both Tim Kaine and Jerry Kilgore," Potts says.

"What Virginians really want to hear about is how these guys will fix the transportation mess and their outlandish proposals regarding the full elimination of the car tax and messing with localities' autonomy on the real estate assessment issue," Potts says.

To the Kilgore campaign, however, the issue is serious. The former state attorney general accused Kaine, the sitting lieutenant governor, of mocking his Southwest Virginia accent in a radio spot in which Kaine said Kilgore had resorted to using "slick radio announcers" to attack him.

Kilgore spokesman Tucker Martin noted the Kaine campaign's recent removal of a link on the Democrat's website to, an attack site put up by the Kaine camp several weeks ago to pigeonhole Kilgore's proposals for state government reforms.

"If the site was supposed to do what it says it was supposed to do, which was to follow Jerry Kilgore's 10 weeks of honest reform and offer rebuttals to what was being proposed," asks Martin, "why does it stop after week three?"

That was around the time of the release of a "Kaine for Governor" radio commercial the Kilgore campaign said was used solely to bring attention to Kilgore's deep Southwest Virginia accent. The site also features a sound clip of Kilgore apparently explaining his position on debates.

Kaine campaign spokesperson Delacey Skinner says the link to was removed to make room for a link to the campaign's television ads running in select Virginia media markets.

Why does any of this matter? Farnsworth has an idea.

"Southwest Virginia may be where this election is decided," he says.

"This is the part of the state that we sometimes refer to as the Fighting Ninth," says Farnsworth. "It's an area that has traditionally seen a strong union presence, but it has also been known as the most culturally conservative part of the state.

"Mark Warner ran well there in 2001, as did Tim Kaine, and you have a Democratic congressman, Rick Boucher, who represents the Ninth District. But you also saw John Kerry fail to attract the voters there," Farnsworth says.

"If Kilgore can succeed in painting Kaine as a city slicker, that may help Kilgore's bottom line in Southwest Virginia and throw the election in his favor," Farnsworth concludes.

Jerry Kilgore