Republican George Allen on Monday escalated his portrayal of Democratic Senate rival Tim Kaine as a would-be serial tax hiker and accused him of letting his attention drift away from Virginians during his final year as governor.
Firing back, Mr. Kaine repeatedly pressed Mr. Allen for more specifics on questions about women’s health and looming defense cuts in the candidates’ latest debate in the campaign to replace retiring Sen. Jim Webb.
The wide-ranging debate in Richmond, hosted by the Virginia chapters of the AARP and the League of Women Voters, also touched on Medicare and Social Security, the recent events in Libya, illegal immigration, the federal deficit and President Obama’s health care overhaul.
The race between the two former Virginia governors and political heavyweights could very well determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate this year. The two men have been running neck-and-neck for nearly two years, though Mr. Kaine appears to be putting a bit of daylight between himself and Mr. Allen in the most recent polls. The latest Real Clear Politics average shows the Democrat with a 4.7-point lead.
Mr. Allen — who headed the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the early 2000s — said in his opening statement that Mr. Kaine’s decision to serve as chairman of the Democratic National Committee during his final year as governor is “really the great unanswered question in this campaign.”
“How does a governor decide to take on a second job that sends him all over the country giving partisan speeches while over 100,000 jobs are lost in Virginia?” Mr. Allen asked. “If Tim had been listening to the people of Virginia, who were really facing tough times, he might not have proposed raising taxes on working people, working women, seniors and small-business owners, as well as people earning as little as $17,000 a year.”
Mr. Kaine, though, said that his final year might have been his best one in office, listing accomplishments such as banning smoking in restaurants and preserving open space in the state. His campaign also pointed to positive statements from Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell and a staffer for former Gov. James S. Gilmore III, also a Republican, about Mr. Kaine’s serving as chairman.
“No one works harder than women,” Mr. Allen said in response to a question about the gap in pay between men and women, noting that there are 5.5 million women currently unemployed and many more who are underemployed or living in poverty. “What we need to do is to make sure we are doing the right things to get this economy moving.”
“I support paycheck equity for women in the Lilly Ledbetter [Fair] Pay Act. George Allen has refused to support them,” he said. “I support Family Medical Leave Act for women caring for their loved ones. George Allen repeatedly voted against it. And I stand against ultrasound legislation, personhood legislation and efforts to take away women’s rights to receive contraception at their workplaces. George Allen and I are in very different places on this … you can’t have a strong economy for women if you take their choices away.”
Later in the debate, Mr. Allen said he would never prohibit contraceptives, but added that affording employers religious freedom and barring contraceptives mandates were not incompatible with that.
On Social Security, Mr. Allen said he would be open to phasing in an increase in the age eligibility for those currently under 50 and providing income adjustments for seniors who may not need the money as much as others. He also used the subject to once again slam Mr. Kaine, who favored allowing the payroll-tax cap on Social Security to be adjusted upward.
“The one thing we shouldn’t be doing, though, and that is what Tim Kaine tried to do as governor, and that is raise taxes on seniors, working women and people earning as little as $17,000 a year,” Mr. Allen said. “Those are the folks you’re talking about that are getting Social Security, and the last thing they need is more taxes imposed on them by the governor.”
Mr. Kaine countered that as governor he got rid of the estate tax and took more than 100,000 low-income Virginians off of income tax rolls.