- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

RICHMOND — Tim Kaine accused George Allen on Wednesday of employing divisive and “bullying” rhetoric against his opponents in the sharpest jab of a caustic first debate between the candidates for U.S. Senate from Virginia.

“We are accountable, of course, for what we say in public life,” Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, said in response to a question about the 2006 incident in which Mr. Allen referred to a volunteer of Democrat Jim Webb as “macaca.”

“When he singled out a young man in this crowd and looked at him and said, ‘Welcome to America, welcome to the real Virginia,’ there was no mistake about what those words meant … and it wasn’t a unique incident,” Mr. Kaine said, ticking off a list of examples of other Allen epithets. “There’s a name-calling and division and bullying aspect to this, which is [in] very [high] supply right now in Washington. It’s not who Virginia is.”

Mr. Allen, as he has repeatedly, said in response that the incident was a mistake, and that it diverted the campaign away from issues that families care about.

“I do want to unite people — all people,” said Mr. Allen, a Republican. “And I’m one who comes from a football family where you grow up where you have a level playing field regardless of one’s race, their ethnicity, their religion — everyone ought to have that equal opportunity to compete and succeed. And, yeah, I am competitive. And I do care about the people of Virginia.”

The debate was an early preview of a Virginia race that is one of about a dozen that will determine control of the Senate next year. Senate Democrats nationally are on the defensive with more retirements and more endangered incumbents to defend than the GOP.

Virginia is shaping up to be one of the marquee races, particularly since it features two well-known former governors. Mr. Allen is trying to recapture the seat he lost in 2006 to Mr. Webb.

Later, the wide-ranging, 90-minute debate at the state Capitol moved to the hot-button issue of the so-called “personhood” amendment that would define life as beginning at conception.

Mr. Kaine said he would oppose such an amendment, calling it a “radical federal reach into a policy the federal government should not reach into,” and would make contraceptive pills illegal.

Mr. Allen said he had a “100 percent” record on life in the U.S. Senate, and in his last year in office the “happiest bill-signing we had” was a parental-notification bill that would require parents to be told if unwed minor daughters were contemplating abortion.

After Mr. Allen said he did not think Mr. Kaine was accurate in saying that such a bill would prevent contraception, in a somewhat odd turn of events, Associated Press reporter Bob Lewis asked Mr. Allen how he thought birth control pills and intrauterine devices worked.

Mr. Allen clarified after the debate that he did not favor barring contraception.

The candidates also sparred over Mr. Kaine’s record as governor. Mr. Allen said that during Mr. Kaine’s tenure in Richmond, the state unemployment rate doubled and his outgoing budget — which received zero votes in the General Assembly — included the largest tax increase in Virginia history.

Mr. Allen highlighted that Mr. Kaine spent his final year as governor working part time as President Obama’s hand-picked chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

“You chose to spend your fourth year as governor taking on the most political, partisan job in America rather than devoting all your attention to the needs of Virginia,” he said.

At the end of the day, said longtime Virginia political analyst Bob Holsworth, Mr. Kaine and Mr. Obama are going to be joined at the hip, whether he likes it or not.

“It’s hard to see how anyone who listened to this debate would vote for Barack Obama and vote for George Allen,” he said.

Mr. Kaine, meanwhile, said Mr. Allen’s rhetoric touting himself as a small-government fiscal conservative simply didn’t match up with his record in the U.S. Senate.

“He turned, and his colleagues … turned, the biggest surplus in the history of the United States into the biggest deficit in the history of the United States,” he said. “The notion that we can fix this by following Grover Norquist is wrong. … You’ve got to have a balanced approach, or you just can’t run this nation.”

Discussing Mr. Kaine’s performance in the debate, Mr. Holsworth said one side of the Democrat’s political approach is the “bridge-builder.”

“But there’s a second part of Tim Kaine — that’s the litigator … a Tim Kaine that tried to put George Allen on the defensive very early on by the charge of bullying,” he said.

Mr. Allen, though, said afterward that he didn’t perceive the debate as confrontational.

“Well, we have differences of opinion,” he said. “We have different points of view. I thought we were relatively civil about it.”

A small group of protesters brandishing “Don’t Tread on Me” flags also marched outside the front of the Capitol on Wednesday. The fundraising and polling requirements of the debate, hosted by the Associated Press and the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association as part of the annual AP Day at the Capitol, excluded all the candidates aside from Mr. Allen and Mr. Kaine.

“They were outraged by circumventing the political process and having a general election debate seven months prior to the primary,” said tea party candidate Jamie Radtke.

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