At last year’s 63rd Shad Planking, Virginia’s annual spring confab for politicos and potential candidates to see and be seen, Gov. Bob McDonnell joked that Tim Kaine and George Allen were “two guys running for a job that neither one of them really wants. What a battle that’s going to be.”
The quip was all in good fun — but there was likely some truth behind it. Mr. Kaine has acknowledged that he never thought he would be running for elected office again after serving his single term as governor from 2006 to 2010, and Mr. Allen — also a former governor, who served in the U.S. Senate from 2001 to 2007 — remarked during a debate with challenger Jim Webb in 2006 that the chamber moves “at the pace of a wounded sea slug.”
But what a difference nearly two years of campaigning, more than $43 million in outside spending, and control of the U.S. Senate can make.
The two men have attended scores of rallies and roundtables and have talked with seniors, women, Hispanics, young voters and any number of other blocs into which pollsters and pundits have sliced and diced the electorate this year — all for a chance to serve in arguably the most dysfunctional institution in modern American politics.
“Well, there was a lot of encouragement from people,” he said. “However, beyond encouragement is, I saw how every vote matters in the United States Senate. Virginia’s Senate seat will determine who’s in the majority in the Senate — whether it continues the way it is, or whether we get common-sense conservative leadership — and I felt that with my experiences, ideas, [I’ve] come back renewed and revitalized with a greater resolve to get this country moving in the right direction.”
The decision included a conversation with the country’s commander in chief, who just happened to have hand-picked Mr. Kaine to serve as chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2009.
“[A]s Ann and I and the kids talked about it, I guess what we kind of decided is, ‘What’s the problem right now in Congress?’” Mr. Kaine said last week after speaking in Fredericksburg at the state convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“I felt like —just like I was governor in the worst recession in 75 years, and I had to make a lot of hard decisions —I had preparation that enabled me to do it. I think my own mixture of strengths and weaknesses is sort of a good mixture of what’s needed right now,” he said. “Is it the mixture that would be needed 20 years from now or 20 years ago? It’s needed right now. We’ve got to have people who can make hard decisions and work together, and, once I thought about it that way, the prospect of standing on the sidelines — I felt like if I did, I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror.”
High-stakes battleground state
With a combined $28 million in contributions to the candidates’ campaigns and more than $43 million in outside spending, the race is among the costliest in the nation.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. An Allen win, after the retirement of Mr. Webb, a Democrat, would push Republicans one seat closer to winning the Senate, which Democrats, along with two nominal independents, currently control 53-47. Aside from an outlying poll here or there, Mr. Kaine and Mr. Allen essentially have remained within the margin of error over the past year.
If either candidate had any trepidation before jumping into the race, it’s certainly not apparent with less than a week to go until Election Day.