A new web video from the Republican National Committee charges that Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine “protected the worst kinds of people” on death row as a defense attorney and as governor of Virginia.
The video released Monday, a day before the vice presidential debate, focuses on four cases the RNC seized on to characterize Kaine as soft on crime.
The video references Lem Tuggle, who Kaine defended against rape and murder charges as a young lawyer and who was eventually executed, as well as Richard Lee Whitley, who was executed despite what the Richmond Times-Dispatch described as “about 1,000 hours of largely free legal work” on Kaine’s part.
Two other cases featured in the video took place during Kaine’s tenure as governor of Virginia: Kaine commuted Percy Levar Walton’s sentence from execution down to life in prison without parole due to “lack of mental competence,” while Kaine approved Jens Soering’s attempt to return to his home country of Germany. Kaine’s successor, Bob McDonnell, stopped that transfer.
The new video sets up a potential discussion of the death penalty in Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate.
Both the official Republican Party Twitter account and RNC spokesman Sean Spicer tweeted a link to a RollCall article about the new video that characterized it as a “Willie Horton-Style Attack.” Spicer later deleted his tweet, writing “we/I never used the term.”
The William Horton case made national political waves in 1988, when a George H.W. Bush-aligned PAC ran an advertisement about “Willie Horton,” who raped and murdered a woman while out of prison on a weekend furlough program that Bush’s opponent, Michael Dukakis, supported as governor of Massachusetts. Critics said the attack played on racial fears and the stereotype that black people are inherently criminal.
For his part, Kaine, a devout Catholic, has long been conflicted on the death penalty.
“The hardest thing about being a governor was dealing with the death penalty,” Kaine told the National Catholic Reporter in August. ”I hope on Judgment Day that both understanding and mercy, because it was tough.”
During his campaign for governor, Kaine’s opponent ran a television ad that claimed “Tim Kaine says that Adolf Hitler doesn’t qualify for the death penalty.” Kaine responded to the attack with his own ad, in which he said “My faith teaches life is sacred” before adding, “as governor, I’ll carry out death sentences handed down by Virginia juries, because that’s the law.”
Kaine ultimately oversaw 11 executions as governor, according to ABC News.
His opponent Mike Pence said in a 2014 panel of governors hosted by CNN, “I support the death penalty. I believe justice demands it in our most heinous cases.”
Pence has overseen no executions as governor of Indiana, though there are numerous people currently on death row in the state.
Watch the video below: