We’re getting more evidence that the agenda of the extreme right is at risk of “overreaching,” to use the common phrase. David Broder makes the arguement this morning, and E.J. Dionne the other day suggested were experiencing the “revolt of the middle.”

Meanwhile, editorialists across Virginia are lamenting the tenure of the gubernatorial contest here in Virginia. Most think the campaign is devoid of issues or panders to certain elements. Even when discussing the big issues (read: Transportation), we get little of substance:

Transportation’s No. 1 need is an adequate, dependable funding source. But rather than tap appropriate and reliable sources, such as a higher gas tax or user fees, Kilgore offers only dubious suggestions while Kaine offers nothing at all.

Sen. Bill Mims, a moderate Republican from Loudoun County reportedly told the local chamber of commerce a few weeks ago that taxes need to be raised for viable transportation solutions to be found. Maybe, maybe not. But no one can think that synchronizing traffic lights or smart growth can answer the short-term problems, such as those in eastern Loudoun County or Fairfax or anywhere that development has already crowded the roads.

Why is it so hard to talk about these problems in a significant way?

One, the brain trusts of most candidates are a misnomer. They are usually clever by half on the tactical side of things and lack any strategic thinking that would not only lift their candidates to victory but uplift the tenure of campaigns. Two, it’s hard, risky work. Engaging the electorate in a dialogue risks affording only the most organized and vociferous clans a forum, while the everyday citizen is caught up trying to get home from work and get the kids to soccer practice. The candidates may find a thoughtful answer edited to a brochure bite that awakens many voters only days before the election. Three, the press doesn’t have the wherewithal to cover these issues substantively. They look for conflict, not solutions. They want a fight, not a plan.

But maybe now is the time, what with the middle in revolt. President Bush gets a lot of credit for being bold and clearly stating what he believes. It can go a long way if Tim Kaine or Jerry Kilgore would address transportation problems honestly and directly. Even if people disagree, they’ll get credit and a maybe more than a few votes for being bold.

And maybe the first thing to do is not plaster a fish fry with signs but to engage citizens in a dialogue. Instead of another rally, let’s have a series of statewide townhall meetings on transportation, where the first order of business would be for the candidates to ask, “What do you think we should do and how should we pay for it?” Gov. Warner rode the townhall meeting concept to a budget victory. Why not try it again?