Kaine-Allen contest goes down to wire

Posted: November 5, 2012

The Winchester Star

Former Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine campaigns Thursday during a town hall meeting at Rosetta Stone, while Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., listens during the stop in Harrisonburg. Virginia's two most popular elected figures, Warner and Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, are lending their partisan allies in the Senate race a hand in the closing days before Tuesday's election. (Photo by Nikki FoxAssociated Press)
Former Gov. George Allen, a Republican, speaks to Dynamic Aviation employees during his last stop in the Valley while campaigning Friday in Bridgewater. (Photo by Nikki FoxAssociated Press)

WINCHESTER — The campaign for the U.S. Senate seat from Virginia between Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine has been the second-most-expensive race in the country.

Only the battle for the presidency has cost more.

In an extremely tight contest — one that could decide the balance of power in the Senate — the two former Virginia governors have been crisscrossing the state for more than year, including multiple stops in the Winchester area.

Factoring in the money spent by outside groups, the race’s price tag now sits at nearly $80 million.

Kaine has spent $18.6 million, while Allen has burned through $11.5 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Allen has benefited more from outside groups, which have pumped $49.1 million into the race — about $30 million of which has gone to support Allen or defeat Kaine, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.

Come Election Day on Tuesday, some of those millions will have paid off when it is determined which candidate will succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, who defeated then-incumbent Allen in 2006.

The race between the two political heavyweights has largely revolved around the economy, energy, the national debt, health care and which man can best work in a bipartisan way to find solutions to these issues.

Recent polls of likely Virginia voters have varied, showing Kaine with a lead as large as seven percentage points and Allen ahead by up to five percentage points.

An average of the five most recent polls of likely voters has Kaine holding a 1 percentage point advantage, according to Real Clear Politics, an online aggregator of political news and polls.

George Allen

Allen was governor of Virginia from 1994 to 1998 and one of its U.S. senators from 2001 to 2007.

Considered the favorite in the 2006 race, Allen, 60, had his hopes dashed when he twice referred to an Indian-American aide to the Webb campaign as “macaca,” an ethnic slur.

During his hiatus from public office, Allen has served as president of the lobbying firm George Allen Strategies, written a book and started the American Energy Freedom Center. As he laments gas prices as too expensive, Allen has made domestic coal, natural gas and oil production a centerpiece of his campaign.

He says he wants to begin exploration for fossil fuels “from the coasts of Virginia to Alaska” and restrict the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to enact and enforce regulations, which Allen calls “job-killing.”

The revenue from leasing Virginia’s coastal waters for oil exploration could be used to build and repair the state’s transportation infrastructure, Allen believes.

As one of his first acts after announcing his candidacy in 2011, Allen pledged never to raise taxes, and he favors reducing federal spending and lowering taxes.

He also wants to be the deciding vote to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and wants to see it replaced with “portable” health insurance, including options for personalized health savings accounts.

He supports keeping the portion of the law that allows young adults to remain on a parent’s plan until age 26.

Timothy M. Kaine

Throughout the campaign, Kaine, 54, has positioned himself as someone who could build bipartisan bridges in the Senate.

He has campaigned often with Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., a member of the “gang of eight,” a group of four Senate Democrats and four Republicans trying to work across the aisle in hyper-partisan times.

Kaine has pledged to join the gang should he be elected on Tuesday.

“If we have the best ideas in the world, but the name-calling, partisanship and the bickering are intense, who cares if our ideas are good?” Kaine asked during a September stop at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown.

Although the presidential race has tightened in the past month, with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney overtaking President Barack Obama in some national polls, Kaine has been able to maintain a slight advantage over Allen — which some political analysts attribute to his bipartisan focus.

Attracting votes

It’s more likely that an independent voter could vote for Romney and Kaine than vice versa, according to Toni-Michelle C. Travis, professor of Virginia politics and American government at George Mason University.

“Virginians tend to vote for the person, not the party,” she said. “People liked him as governor and consider him pragmatic.”

Although Allen has tried to highlight his ability to reach across the aisle, he will likely have a more difficult time attracting Obama voters, Travis said, noting that he has been ideologically rigid in the past.

Kaine has reminded voters of what he believes is the Republican’s more incendiary partisanship, referring to a comment Allen once made about how he would enjoy knocking Democrats’ “soft teeth down their whiny throats.”

“It’s really difficult to imagine any intentional vote for Obama-Allen,” said Geoff Skelley, media relations coordinator for the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Kaine, too, has had his conciliatory image challenged, especially his 2009-11 stint as chairman of the Democratic National Committee — which briefly overlapped his time as governor.

Kaine supports the Affordable Care Act, and has said he would like to find ways to make it more cost-effective.

— Contact Conor Gallagher at cgallagher@winchesterstar.com