Timothy M. Kaine and Sen. Mark Warner sought to rally the Democratic faithful – and pry open their wallets – for Kaine’s Senate campaign Tuesday evening on the Alexandria waterfront.

More than 200 Democratic donors and bigwigs crowded into the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Old Town, paying between $150 and $1,000 apiece to mingle, sip cocktails and hear Virginia’s last two Democratic governors say a few words. Kaine is running to succeed retiring Sen. James Webb (D) and will likely face ex-Sen. George Allen (R) in a contest that will require both men to raise as much money as they can.

The race looks like a toss-up, and both Kaine and Warner made clear to the crowd that the state would also be crucial to President Obama’s reelection hopes.

“We are now one of the two or three key battleground states in this country, and how do you feel about that?” Kaine asked the crowd, which responded with loud cheers.

Delivering an early version of what could develop into his campaign stump speech, Kaine touted Virginia’s evolution into one of the best-educated and wealthiest states in the country. “I think we can take some lessons from Virginia to Washington,” he said, while talking up his own record as a governor who had to cope with a cratering economy.

Kaine joked that if he won the race and was paired with Warner in the Capitol, “he will call me junior senator every day.”

Warner echoed that theme in his own remarks.

“As somebody who is down there kind of in the proverbial trenches at this point, I can tell you Tim, it is a ways to go from ‘His Excellency’ to junior senator,” Warner said. “I can say that to him now. I didn’t say that when we were trying to convince him to run.”

Both Democrats emphasized the importance of raising the debt ceiling, an issue on which Kaine’s campaign criticized Allen early in the day. Warner complained about members of Congress who “draw bright lines everywhere” on issues like the debt limit, rather than seek bipartisan consensus.

Members of the audience sounded enthusiastic about the Senate race, even though Election Day is still 18 months away – Kaine teased that they were “junkies” for being engaged this early.

Among those junkies was once-and-future gubernatorial hopeful Terry McAuliffe, who worked the room eagerly and oozed optimism about Kaine’s chances next fall.

McAuliffe said Obama’s presence atop the ballot would guarantee “a huge turnout operation” in Virginia.

“Tim Kaine’s never lost a race and I’m not betting on him losing this one,” McAuliffe said.