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Virginia Senate: how Tim Kaine survived a record barrage of attack ads

No candidate for the US Senate has ever had more money spent against him than Virginia's Tim Kaine. But he triumphed because he was seen as the more bipartisan choice, experts say.

By Staff writer / November 7, 2012

Tim Kaine, Democratic candidate for senator, gives his victory speech in Richmond, Va., Tuesday.

Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP

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Washington

Tim Kaine triumphed over former GOP senator and governor George Allen Tuesday night despite having more money spent against him than any Senate candidate in history.

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Since the race began last year, both Mr. Kaine – also a former governor – and Mr. Allen said they expected a contest that would be locked within the margin of error until the end. And that’s what they got, with polls showing the race closely divided until Kaine emerged victorious, winning by a margin of four percentage points.

That’s even though Kaine was targeted by more than $28 million in attacks by groups outside Allen’s campaign.

“There are going to be a lot of people on the other side who are going to have to regroup and figure out what went wrong,” said Mo Elleithee, a senior Kaine adviser, in a conference call during the campaign’s final week, “because Virginians just have not responded in the way that those groups had hoped they would.”

Kaine’s third-party allies weren’t asleep at the switch: Allen took some $18.6 million in abuse. Among Republicans, only Wisconsin Senate candidate Tommy Thompson (R) took more – $20.5 million. (He also lost, to Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin.)

But the amount spent against Kaine is closing in on double the Democratic runner-up in this category. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) of Ohio took $16.5 million in flak.

“A lot of these negative ads, after a while, after millions and millions of dollars are spent – there’s nothing new,” said Mike Henry, Kaine’s campaign manager, on the conference call. “And also on the Allen side, he has a record and a reputation as well. People know these guys; they aren’t new to Virginia."

Republicans, too, weren’t surprised that seemingly endless campaign spending had little effect.

“It doesn’t surprise me that the numbers literally haven’t moved,” said Jason Miyares, a veteran Republican consultant in the Old Dominion. “You have two former governors with high name ID and are broadly well known.... These are not unknown, undefined candidates.”

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