But operatives in both parties are preparing for the possibility that Kaine and Allen will face each other. And each side expects a race that will be influenced by the candidate who will be atop the ballot: President Obama.
Republicans have made it clear that they would seek to make Virginia’s Senate race a referendum on Obama’s policies, betting that Kaine’s service at the DNC will serve as a drag on his campaign.
“He has been the loudest cheerleader for the stimulus, for the health-care bill, for all the spending and taxing that has been going on,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
As a result, Walsh said, “the rhetorically moderate profile that Tim Kaine tried to craft as governor has been laid bare by his tenure at the DNC the last two years.”
Having won Virginia in 2008 — the first Democrat in 40 years to do so — Obama will again lavish attention and resources on the state in 2012. Democrats expect that the effort will drive their voters to the polls and help propel their Senate candidate to victory.
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said that having Obama atop the ticket will be a net positive for Kaine — a benefit that Democrats didn’t have last year, when three of their congressional incumbents lost seats.
“We are going to have almost double the turnout we had last year,” Connolly said. “That’s an entirely different electorate.”
Whichever argument prevails, both parties anticipate a hard-fought contest that will be a magnet for national attention — and cash.
In their 2006 matchup, when Allen, the incumbent, lost to Webb, the two spent more than $20 million combined. Operatives in both parties estimate that Kaine and Allen would easily top $30 million in 2012, and that doesn’t include many millions that would be spent in the state by national party organizations, outside interest groups and the presidential campaigns.
From the right, much of that money would be aimed at painting Kaine as a standard-issue liberal.
Would the charge stick?
In a column in Roll Call on Tuesday, Rothenberg Political Report editor Stuart Rothenberg wrote that “it’s far from clear that [Kaine] is still the political powerhouse that he once was, or that some apparently assume he still is.” After having worked to develop a reputation as a centrist, Rothenberg said, now “Kaine can be easily defined by Republicans as a partisan and easily linked to the president.”