Timothy M. Kaine’s (D) campaign staff said Tuesday they would not rule out bringing up George Allen’s (R) “macaca moment” in the U.S. Senate race, foreshadowing a potentially bruising contest through next November.

On a conference call with the media previewing Wednesday’s debate in Richmond between the two former governors, Kaine campaign adviser Mo Elleithee made clear that “anything in any candidate’s record is fair game for discussion.”

Elleithee was asked specifically whether the campaign would rule out invoking the “macaca” incident, the moment during Allen’s 2006 Senate campaign when he used the word, an ethnic slur in some cultures, to refer to an Indian-American Democratic campaign volunteer.

Without explicitly referencing that incident, Elleithee said: “I think voters want leaders with a record of bringing people together and a desire to unite people as opposed to divide. ...George Allen has a long record of putting partisanship and ideology ... above all else.”

The Allen campaign strongly disputed Elleithee’s characterization, contending that the Republican had worked across party lines in Richmond.

“If you look at George Allen’s record, you see in his time as governor he worked with a Democrat legislature that passed historic reforms,” said Dan Allen, an adviser to Allen’s campaign.

It appears unlikely that Kaine himself would invoke “macaca,” either during their debate Wednesday or on the campaign trail. But it’s also unlikely that either candidate will be able to avoid repeated questions about it as the campaign progresses.

Allen has apologized for the incident, including in January, when he said, “I never should have singled out that young man working for my opponent, calling him a name.”

Kaine may not bring up “macaca” Wednesday, but he is expected to try to draw a contrast between his record and that of Allen, seeking to tie the Republican to the policies of the Bush administration that Democrats say led to the current economic climate.

Allen and his fellow Republicans will push just as hard to link Kaine, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, to the more controversial economic policies of the Obama administration.

Asked whether Kaine could win in 2012 if Obama does not carry Virginia, Elleithee said, “I actually feel pretty good about the president’s chances in Virginia.”

Polls have consistently shown both the Senate race and the presidential contest in Virginia to be neck-and-neck, and Elleithee predicted that dynamic would continue.

“This is going to be a very, very competitive state,” he said,