Candidates for U.S. Senate George Allen and his Democratic challenger Timothy M. Kaine have powerful things in common. Both were popular governors of the Commonwealth of Virginia; both have long political resumes; and both men are passionate about the success of their adopted home state.
Now locked in a high-stakes race that could determine control of the U.S. Senate, both candidates are fighting to secure the seat of retiring Sen. Jim Webb (D), spending a record $55 million-plus on an avalanche of ads to sway swing voters in Northern Virginia and across the state. The message from both candidates is simple: voters have a stark choice.
Kaine, 54, has portrayed himself as a bipartisan bridge-builder who supports gender equality and believes that access to higher education and investing in what he calls the "talent economy" are critical to the success of Virginia and the nation.
Allen, 60, has portrayed himself as the small-business champion, a job creator who will unleash American energy resources and stop defense cuts that could cost 200,000 Virginians their jobs.
WITH LESS THAN A WEEK before Election Day, both candidates have spent time in Northern Virginia, emphasizing their differences.
"I have an Irish temper that I usually keep in check," Kaine said, during an Oct. 18 women's roundtable appearance in Chantilly. "During a debate at the Fairfax Chamber last month, my opponent was asked about the Blunt amendment, the personhood bill. His response was 'I don't know why the other side keeps bringing up divisive social issues.' I kind of got mad at that," Kaine said.
Kaine said Allen and others in the GOP want to take away women's choices, and then "step back from the issues."
"The attempt to dive into wedge issues wedges us apart. We're wedged apart about as far as we can go," Kaine said.
Allen has chided Kaine for his 2009-2011 stint as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, calling him an "absentee governor" and an "Obama clone."
"I want to be Virginia's senator. Tim wants to be President Obama's senator," Allen said during the candidate's fifth and final debate on the campus of Virginia Tech on Oct. 18. "[Virginians] deserve a strong independent voice, not an echo."
During five debates, including one last month sponsored by the Fairfax Chamber, they have clashed over pending defense cuts, tax policy, education and over who has the right prescription to avert the "fiscal cliff" which endangers defense-related jobs in Virginia.
Kaine claims a strong record of bipartisanship, including working with Republican President George W. Bush on strengthening campus security in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. At the final debate, held Oct. 18 on the Virginia Tech campus, Kaine said, "We are all Americans; we are all Virginians."
While meeting with veterans in Fairfax on Oct. 22 at American Legion Post 177, Allen emphasized his record of working on behalf of veterans and their families. "I believe the federal government should lead by example in providing job opportunities for veterans as intended by current veterans' preference hiring laws, as well as the law requiring federal agencies to do business with small firms owned by service-disabled veterans."
BOTH CANDIDATES have tied their campaigns to the national battle for control of the U.S. Senate.
According to Toni-Michelle Travis, a GMU associate professor of government and politics and editor of "The Almanac of Virginia Politics," Kaine's lead in some polls is driven by a strong support among women voters.
"I think this race is still neck-and-neck, but I believe it's a race that will be decided by women in Fairfax County who will vote to protect (their rights.)"