By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Democrat Timothy M. Kaine and Republican George Allen clashed on offshore oil drilling, climate change and energy independence at a recent debate attended by a couple of hundred people at the Washington Dulles Airport Marriott.
Neither of their names appears on any ballot next week, but Kaine and Allen have been campaigning at an increasingly feverish pace.
Kaine, Virginia's governor, and Allen, a former governor and senator, have packed schedules as stand-ins for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
An unprecedented number of stand-ins (or "surrogates") are headlining rallies, town hall meetings and news conferences in Virginia this year. The state's top current and former elected officials have spent months filling in for Obama and McCain, and dozens of other nationally recognized politicians and celebrities are traveling to the state almost daily.
"We think we are decent stands-ins,'' said Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, a candidate for governor next year and co-chairman of McCain's Virginia campaign. "We can talk about the issues and give a sense of the person. The candidates are best, but surrogates are a good start."
A week before the Nov. 4 election, surrogate events are taking place every day in all corners of the state. Although they do not receive anywhere near the same enthusiasm or attention as visits by Obama and McCain, they help excite party activists, keep the campaigns in the news and possibly sway a vote or two.
Kaine has traveled to many states to campaign for Obama, including Maryland, Arizona and West Virginia, but has primarily stumped in Virginia since Obama secured the nomination this summer.
"The campaign has used me in a lot of different ways,'' Kaine said. "But almost all my work since June has been in Virginia because, hey, this is where the action is."
Members of both parties think Virginia is critical to either candidate's ability to capture the 270 electoral votes needed to secure the White House.
No Democratic presidential candidate has carried Virginia since 1964, but a Washington Post poll released this week shows Obama leads McCain 52 percent to 44 percent among the state's likely voters.
A visit today will be Obama's ninth to Virginia since securing the Democratic presidential nomination. His running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, has been five times. McCain has been three times, including twice with his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Palin made another three stops in the state yesterday, including in Leesburg.
But Obama and McCain, and their running mates and spouses, are dividing their time among several battleground states, including Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, leaving others to stump for them in Virginia.
Surrogate crowds can range from a couple of dozens to hundreds of people depending on the speakers. Events have included a Democratic rally outside McCain's Arlington County condo, a meet-and-greet at the Martinsville Speedway, ribbon-cuttings at campaign offices and speeches at festivals and barbecues.
After the recent one-hour debate between Kaine and Allen, moderated by MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell, members of the audience murmured their approval. The two governors, visibly relaxed, gave unusually specific answers to questions about energy policy and the environment.
"This is the first time I have ever been in a debate where my name wasn't on the ballot, and it's kind of got a relaxed quality to it,'' Kaine told the crowd.
Allen, who has been advising McCain's campaign for several months on economic and energy issues, said he had certain points that he wanted to make sure he mentioned, including McCain's plan to spend $2 billion each year on clean coal technology.
"They're not campaigning, so they were really able to focus on the issues,'' said Carrie Wilson, executive director of the social services group Reston Interfaith, who attended the debate. Wilson said that she was leaning toward a candidate, although she declined to say which one, and that the debate helped confirm for her that she is making the right choice.
McDonnell (R) and Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), both candidates for governor next year, will represent the presidential candidates in a similar debate Wednesday in Lynchburg.
Kaine, an Obama friend who became the first governor outside of Illinois to endorse Obama and was on his short list for vice president, is his top surrogate in Virginia. He has held dozens of events, including a series of town hall meetings across the state, and has appeared on numerous national TV shows.
Virginia's other Democrat holding a statewide office, Sen. James Webb, is not known for his love of campaigning. The high-profile freshmen senator has appeared on television for Obama and just hit the campaign trial for him this month, after Congress adjourned. Webb has campaigned for Obama in southwest Virginia and Northern Virginia.
The state's most popular Democrat, former governor Mark R. Warner, has appeared with Obama five times since June but has been spending most of his time campaigning for U.S. Senate. He has not appeared much as a surrogate, but he mentions Obama in his stump speeches.
"I don't know how much one elected official can help another, but I am pleased to try,'' Warner said.
Kaine, Webb and Warner, part of a Democratic resurgence in Virginia, are recording ads for Obama in the final weeks of the campaign.
Others standing in for Obama include former Republican governor Linwood Holton (Kaine's father-in-law), the wives of Kaine and Warner, members of Congress, state legislators and party leaders.
"An endorsement by one of us is not going to carry the day and change the outcome of the election,'' said House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong (D-Henry). "It's still important to get the message out."
Allen and McDonnell often trade surrogate duty with other Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore and Del. Christopher B. Saxman (Staunton). McCain's son, Doug, and brother, Joe, who both live in Virginia, also stand in.
Democrats, armed with more money and staff, are holding more events and bringing in more nationally known names, including former president Bill Clinton, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and actors Kal Penn and Blair Underwood.
Republicans have brought in former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge, former NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler, McCain's mother, Roberta, and a slew of veterans and prisoners of war who served with McCain.
But Kilgore, who lost the governor's mansion to Kaine in 2005, said Republicans prefer using Virginians -- not outsiders -- as surrogates.
"We're going to have nationally recognized people,'' he said. "But we've always believed that people listen to the ones that they know best and the ones they feel know Virginia best."