With economic issues at the front of Virginians’ minds, the two candidates likely to meet in November’s U.S. Senate race are advancing dueling messages on how to lure and keep jobs in the state.
Former governor Timothy M. Kaine, the expected Democratic nominee in the contest to succeed retiring Sen. James Webb (D), is spending Friday and Saturday visiting local businesses and their leaders in the Shenandoah Valley, highlighting the so-called “talent economy” and the need for government policies to help it flourish.
Ex-governor and senator George Allen, the frontrunner for the Republican nod, spent part of Friday holding a town hall at Micron Technology in Manassas preaching the importance of lower taxes, less regulation and more energy exploration.
While the two candidates hit many of the same themes, their emphasis was clearly different – and will continue to be through November’s election.
“If you build a talent economy, that’s what you’ve got to do to get strong and that’s what Virginia’s done to get strong and that’s what the country has to do,” Kaine said in a telephone interview.
For Kaine, that means continued investments in education and worker training programs, as well as immigration policies that allow businesses to find the highly-skilled workers they need.
On his travels, Kaine said, he has heard much from the business community about the need to bend the cost curve down on health care, and the importance of having certainty about future regulatory and tax policies.
Republicans have used the latter point to hammer President Obama, accusing him of favoring temporary tax fixes – like the two-month payroll tax cut extension approved in December– that discourage businesses from making plans for the future. But Kaine said he was not hearing that criticism of the White House.
“This is a pretty Republican part of the state that I’m in, and they’re more inclined to blame Congress and not the president” for the payroll tax impasse, Kaine said.
But Allen, in a separate interview, disputed the idea that Virginia business leaders were just pointing fingers at Congress. They blame “Washington – that’s all of ‘em,” Allen said.
Kaine’s itinerary Friday included a stop at SRI Shenandoah Valley in Harrisonburg, a research institute he helped bring to the state when he was governor.
Similarly, Allen’s visit to Micron Technology highlighted the fact that he helped bring Dominion Semiconductor to Virginia in 1995, and it was later acquired by Micron.
“When I was governor I worked recruiting businesses with lower taxes, prompt permitting and lower energy prices,” Allen said, taking some credit for the rapid growth of the state’s semiconductor industry.
Kaine’s desire to spend more on education and worker training faces a key obstacle – the federal budget deficit. Kaine acknowledged that “it’s certainly tough” to find the money, but recalled that as governor, he managed to cut money from the budget overall even as he found additional funds for higher education.
“If you’re only cutting, you’re not doing the right thing,” Kaine said.
As for Allen’s policies, “I think his main economic argument as I hear it is cut taxes, cut regulations and do more drilling,” Kaine said, arguing that those policies alone won’t produce more college graduates and skilled workers.
Allen said that, like Kaine, he also discussed education and worker training programs during his campaign stops. And he wants immigration changes, suggesting that foreign students graduating with advanced degrees in the U.S. in key fields be handed a green card along with their diplomas.
But unlike Kaine, Allen said he also hears a lot of negative feedback from business owners about Obama’s health-care bill, particularly the employer mandate.
“That is a big impediment to hiring that I hear from Northern Virginia to Southside Virginia and everywhere in between,” Allen said.