It’s Kaine vs. Allen ahead of Virginia primaries

Senate hopefuls ready for debate

RICHMOND — Former Virginia governors and current U.S. Senate candidates Tim Kaine and George Allen will square off Wednesday in the first debate of the 2012 campaign season, providing an early glimpse into what will be one of the most closely watched and expensive races in the country.

In a somewhat unusual political scenario, the candidates will debate before their parties’ primaries are held, but pundits already have anointed Mr. Allen, a Republican, and Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, as the presumptive nominees.

“I think it’s an opportunity to show that there’s two visions in this race, and one clear choice,” said Dan Allen, a senior adviser for the Allen campaign.

One candidate — Mr. Kaine — has championed tax increases and high-profile items that have fallen short of pie-in-the-sky expectations, such as the economic stimulus package and the federal health care overhaul, the Allen campaign adviser said.

“People are looking for people who have positive solutions for the future, and that’s what George Allen is offering,” he said.

U.S. Senate candidate George Allen

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U.S. Senate candidate George Allen more >

But Mo Elleithee, a senior adviser for Mr. Kaine, said in a Tuesday conference call that a major contrast between the two candidates is that one of them simply wants to fight against the ills plaguing the nation’s capital.

“Rather than fight Washington, it’s in our best interest to fix Washington,” he said. “[Allen] just wants to keep fighting the old battles of the past.”

Meanwhile, Republicans and the Allen campaign have been working feverishly to tie Mr. Kaine, who served as Mr. Obama’s hand-picked chairman of the Democratic National Committee, to a president whose approval ratings have sunk gradually amid a shaky economy and stagnant job growth.

“If that’s how they want to continue to spend their money, God bless ‘em,” Mr. Elleithee said.

Recent polls show that the dip in Mr. Obama’s approval ratings in the state has done little to affect Mr. Kaine’s numbers.

A Quinnipiac University poll in June had Mr. Kaine and Mr. Allen essentially tied at 43 percent and 42 percent, respectively, while Mr. Obama’s approval-disapproval rating was split at 48 percent-48 percent.

A subsequent Quinnipiac poll released in September showed the Democratic president’s approval rating dropping to 40 percent, with a 54 percent disapproval rating, while Mr. Allen led Mr. Kaine 45 percent to 44 percent — still within the poll’s error margin of 2.7 percentage points.

Both candidates, for the most part, have hunkered down and concentrated on fundraising, though each also recently devoted a significant amount of time and energy to crisscrossing the state to support candidates for 2011 legislative and local elections. Mr. Kaine had $2.5 million in cash on hand at the end of September, while Mr. Allen had $1.8 million.

The 90-minute debate is being held at the annual AP Day at the Capitol in Richmond, sponsored by the Associated Press and the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association. It will be monitored by Bob Gibson, executive director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership.

The requirements to participate in the debate — candidates must have raised at least 20 percent of what their party’s front-runner has raised by the end of October and averaged at least 15 percent of the vote in primary polls not conducted by a campaign — have emerged as a minor controversy.

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