Kaine (D) and Allen (R) are fighting to succeed Sen. James Webb (D), who is retiring from the Democratic-controlled chamber. Allen lost the seat to Webb six years ago.
The race in Virginia is among the most closely watched and hotly contested in the country, and the outcome could determine which party controls the Senate. With less than a month to go until Election Day, several polls have suggested that Kaine has opened a single-digit lead over Allen.
While the face-off did not cover much new ground and the candidates avoided any obvious gaffes, both men aimed to present a clear choice to voters during the debate.
Allen attempted to portray Kaine as distracted during his tenure as governor, focused on his role as chairman of the Democratic National Committee during his final year in office.
“How does a governor decide to take on a second job that sends him all over the country while over 100,000 jobs are being lost in Virginia?” asked Allen, who left the governor’s mansion in 1998. “As governor, you only get four years to have a positive impact on people’s lives. You could’ve told the president you needed to give all of your attention to the people of Virginia. You did not give them 100 percent.”
Kaine, who left office in 2010, responded that he was governor during the terms of President George W. Bush and President Obama and worked with two Republican state Houses. “I will always be a partner with the president of the United States, whoever that president is,” Kaine said.
He told viewers that he is the candidate who can bring compromise to Washington and pledged to help end the gridlock in Congress — something he said Allen did not do during his term in the Senate.
“We need folks who know how to compromise and work together,” he said, adding that during Allen’s time in the Senate, spending and deficits increased.
He also sought to cast Allen as a bully, twice mentioning the Republican’s old vow to “knock Democrats’ soft teeth down their whiny throats.”
The debate was hosted by the state’s AARP and the League of Women Voters, and their influence loomed large in the conversation. Both candidates were asked about what they would do to preserve Medicare and Social Security. Allen said he favored raising the eligibility age for people younger than 50 and reducing benefits for wealthier seniors.
Kaine said he opposed privatization of either program.
Women’s issues were also a focus. When the candidates were asked how they would address the gender gap in pay, Allen said creating jobs is the best way to help women.
Kaine said there have been “efforts to block women’s progress” in 2012, especially regarding women’s health care.