For months, the story of next year’s race to succeed retiring Sen. James Webb (D) has been written essentially as a two-man contest, pitting former governors Timothy M. Kaine (D) and George Allen (R) against each other.
But each man has to win a party primary first, and now the other candidates gunning for the Republican nomination may get their chance to share the stage with Allen.
The Republican Party of Virginia said Thursday that it would host three Senate candidate debates before the June 12 primary: One in April in Roanoke, one in May in Northern Virginia and another in May in Hampton Roads.
“While all of you are out meeting voters each day,” RPV Chairman Pat Mullins wrote to the candidates, “Virginia is a large and diverse state and I believe that it would be beneficial to the voters to have at least three debates with all of the Republican candidates who will be on the Republican ballot for the June 12, 2012 Primary.”
Aside from Allen, the hopefuls running for the GOP nod include former Virginia Tea Party Patriots head Jamie Radtke, businessman Timothy Donner, lawyer David McCormick and minister E.W. Jackson. The RPV debates will be open to all candidates who qualify for the ballot.
In an unusual bit of timing, those primary debates will come several months after a de facto general election debate between Kaine and Allen on Dec. 7 in Richmond, part of the annual AP Day at the Capitol. The rules for that debate only admit candidates who surpass certain polling and fundraising thresholds that none of the candidates are likely to meet other than Kaine and Allen.
A Washington Post poll released in May gave Allen 54 percent of the vote in a GOP primary matchup, with the other current candidates scoring 3 percent or less.
As the prohibitive favorite, it may be in Allen’s interest to appear on stage with his primary foes as little as possible. So far in the contest Allen has trained nearly all of his attention on Kaine and has not engaged with his fellow Republican candidates.