The first skirmish was over Kaine’s service as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a job he took at the request of President Obama.
“I want to be Virginia’s senator. Tim wants to be President Obama’s senator,” Allen said, adding that Virginians “deserve a strong independent voice, not an echo.”
Kaine fired back quickly. “I do not think it is anti-Virginian to support the president of the United States,” Kaine said, noting that he had also worked with President George W. Bush on building rail to Dulles International Airport and in the aftermath of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. Kaine also said that Allen had a “double standard” because he served as National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman.
The debate came as nearly every recent poll has shown Kaine clinging to a narrow lead in one of the most anticipated contests this year. Both campaigns think the race is within the margin of error either way, and neither is taking a single vote for granted.
On Thursday night, Kaine criticized Allen’s performance as a senator and suggested that he was more interested in touting his record as governor than his time on Capitol Hill.
“George’s record when he was a United States senator was one of fiscal irresponsibility and harsh partisanship,” Kaine said.
Allen defended his term in the Senate and noted that the unemployment rate and the deficit were lower than they are now.
The debate marked the fifth time the two
former governors have debated in the closely watched race to succeed retiring Sen. James Webb (D). Kaine and Allen squared off in Richmond in December, Hot Springs in July, McLean in September and again in Richmond this month.
The previous debates provided occasional fireworks but no signature moments that altered the basic dynamic of the contest: two candidates with long records, widespread name recognition and strong fundraising chops battling over a state that has tilted repeatedly between red and blue over the past several election cycles.
Another key point of contention Thursday was the defense cuts scheduled to happen in January unless Congress and the White House strike a deal to avert them.
To avoid the spending reductions, Kaine trumpeted his plan to let the Bush era tax cuts expire only on incomes of more than $500,000 — above the $250,000 proposed by the president. “Folks, the time for the show votes and the no-compromise positions is over,” Kaine told the audience.
But Allen said Kaine and other Democrats are using potential cuts as an excuse to increase taxes. The military, Allen said, “should never be used as a political bargaining chip to raise taxes on job-creating small businesses.”