Virginia Senate race: Why Tim Kaine, George Allen vie for bipartisan mantle
In Virginia, Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine each want to show he's the one who can work across the aisle to get things done. Target suburban voters want a candidate who can help make a dysfunctional US Senate work.
It is perhaps the most telling sign of contemporary congressional politics that the men who would be Virginia’s junior senator are having a bitter fight about, of all things, bipartisanship.Skip to next paragraph
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Given what both campaigns believe will be a very narrow margin of victory, the race may turn on the less-partisan voters in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Richmond, and Hampton Roads. With those voters, breaking through as the less ideological and more bipartisan candidate could be the difference between Mr. Allen being only the third senator to return to the Senate after losing a seat and Mr. Kaine joining his gubernatorial predecessor and political patron, Sen. Mark Warner (D).
In all of their many policy battles – on taxes, on the defense budget, on President Obama’s health-care law, and on exploiting American energy resources – both Kaine and Allen acknowledge that none of their priorities can succeed in a Congress at its dysfunctional, partisan worst.
And so each has cast himself as the candidate who will be best at breaking through. So far, voters appear to give Kaine an edge. Nearly half (49 percent) of voters said Kaine would work better with the other party against 37 percent for Allen, according to a recent Washington Post poll.
Kaine has prosecuted a more consistent and, in the eyes of voters, more believable case for himself as a true bipartisan voice in Washington thus far. But his background boasts few bipartisan legislative achievements, and he was one of the party’s top champions for some of Mr. Obama’s most controversial policies.
Allen, for his part, scored a haul of bipartisan successes while governor of Virginia in the mid-1990s. But he lags in voters' minds, perhaps, because the once hard-charging presidential contender may have accumulated too much partisan baggage in Richmond and during his ill-fated previous term in the Senate.
The Kaine campaign
Kaine’s final two advertisements cap what has been a permanent feature of his campaign: a plea for less-toxic politics.
“As a missionary in Honduras I learned how faith can bring people together,” Kaine, who used President George W. Bush favorably in a prior ad, says in one homestretch commercial. “I’ll bring more partnership and less partisanship to Washington.”
Kaine will spend the final weekend of the campaign, too, working the stump with Senator Warner, a man who is something of a bipartisan saint in the Old Dominion. (When Warner claimed his Senate seat in 2008, he won a whopping 24 percent of Republicans while losing only 2 percent of professed Democrats.)
Both his ads and his time by Warner’s side reinforce what Virginia political analyst Bob Holsworth calls Kaine’s message of “instinctual” bipartisanship – that is, Kaine is personally and philosophically inclined toward moderation.