Target: Republicans for comprehensive reform without tax increases

Kaine beefs up funds to defeat transportation plan opponentsBy CHRISTINA NUCKOLS, The Virginian-Pilot © December 2, 2006 Last updated: 11:05 PM

RICHMOND - Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's promise to campaign hard next year against Republican lawmakers who squashed his transportation plan is going to get costly.

The Democratic executive wants to beef up his war chest next week with two fundraisers expected to yield about $1 million.

All 140 seats in the Republican-controlled General Assembly are up for re-election next fall. Democrats are feeling frisky after victories in last year's gubernatorial race and this fall's U.S. Senate contest.

They hope to secure a majority in the State Senate and pick up seats in the House of Delegates.

Kaine said in an interview that he's already a booster for his party, but the state's need for road improvements adds an urgency to the elections.

"It's a really important thing to me that we solve the state's transportation crisis. I just want to make sure people are in place who want to solve this problem," he said.

It's still early to know which districts will be targeted by Democrats, but party leaders are recruiting in key Republican-held districts that have become more competitive in recent elections.

Most are in Northern Virginia, but two Republican delegates in Virginia Beach could face competition this year.

During his gubernatorial campaign last year, Kaine won in House districts held by Dels. Leo Wardrup and John Welch. The two Republicans were among the governor's most consistent opponents during this year's transportation battles.

Mo Elleithee, a consultant to Kaine's Moving Forward Virginia political action committee, said the fundraising events in Northern Virginia and Richmond are expected to draw about 400 donors who will pay $1,000 to $10,000 each for tickets.

The events will showcase Democrats' growing bench of leaders who have the ability to raise large sums for their party.

U.S. Sen.-elect Jim Webb and former Gov. Mark Warner will headline the Northern Virginia gala along with former Lt. Gov. Don Beyer and Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator.

State party chairman Richard Cranwell will be featured at the Richmond dinner.

Warner is expected to help out with additional fundraisers over the next year, and he could contribute directly to races through his One Virginia PAC, which had $538,000 in the bank at the end of September.

Republican lawmakers are feeling the heat.

"This election is not going to be a lay-up for us like it's been in the past," said Sen. Kenneth Stolle, R-Virginia Beach. "We need to be aggressive in incumbency protection and aggressive in candidate recruitment."

Some legislators do not believe Democratic statewide wins will affect General Assembly contests, where constituent services and local issues drive voter choices.

"The Democrats are falsely re-motivated by the national issues," said Welch, whose district gave majorities to Kaine and Webb. "They had issues like Iraq and President Bush's lack of popularity. None of those issues matter in state legislative elections."

House and Senate Republican caucuses have more than $600,000 in their combined coffers, and Democrats in the two chambers can match them dollar for dollar.

That's not counting the cash Kaine will add to his party's efforts.

Top Republicans are under pressure to help their party counter those Democratic heavyweights. House Speaker William Howell has $259,000 on hand, Attorney General Bob McDonnell has $141,000 and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling has $117,000.

Democrats need to pick up four seats to take control of the State Senate and at least 10 seats to seize the House. Although the Senate is within easier reach, its Republican members have supported Kaine's efforts to increase spending on road and rail projects.

Kaine has been more aggressive in criticizing House Republicans, who blocked his transportation proposals.

· Reach Christina Nuckols at (804) 697-1562 or