TWO FORMER Virginia governors, Timothy M. Kaine and George Allen, are running for the U.S. Senate seat that Mr. Allen fumbled away six years ago. They are partisan stalwarts who disagree on deficit reduction, energy policy, health care, abortion, the death penalty and much else. The contrast in character and intellect is even more stark. On those grounds, Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, is a better choice by leaps and bounds than Mr. Allen, a Republican.

We happen to agree on many issues with Mr. Kaine, who favors a balanced approach to deficit-cutting. He would allow Bush-era tax cuts for the rich to expire — he’d set the bar at incomes of $500,000 a year, twice the level proposed by the Obama administration — while targeting some overseas military bases for cuts.

Mr. Allen favors a different approach, having signed a pledge never to raise taxes, thereby allowing ideology — and specifically anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist — to trump bipartisan compromise. After excluding the military from cost-cutting, he offers only fuzzy ideas for charting a path toward a balanced budget: cutting regulations (but which ones?), goosing the oil and gas industries (which are already booming) and implementing enormous phased-in spending cuts — again unspecified.

Mr. Allen and the anonymous, deep-pocketed allies who have paid for the barrage of TV ads against Mr. Kaine have traded in distortions. They accuse Mr. Kaine of advocating draconian cuts to the military that would result from automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. In fact, Mr. Kaine has urged a compromise to avoid such an outcome. They say Mr. Kaine wants to raise federal taxes on everyone; he has never proposed or endorsed such a policy.

Mr. Allen paints himself as a fiscal conservative, but general fund spending jumped when he was governor, in the boom years of the ’90s. It was flat during Mr. Kaine’s term, which coincided with the sharp economic downturn of 2008-09. Moreover, by embracing the Bush-era tax cuts and opposing their repeal, Mr. Allen helped dig the massive fiscal ditch in which this country is mired.

In their debates, Mr. Kaine has displayed a command of detail while Mr. Allen trades in gauzy hyperbole. In one such exchange, it was apparent that Mr. Allen did not understand how birth-control pills work nor the implications of “personhood” legislation he supports, which declares that life begins at the moment of conception. As Mr. Kaine has pointed out, such a measure could imperil legal birth-control pills.

Mr. Kaine, admired as governor for his straight talk and civility, guided the state sure-handedly through the worst months of the recession. He made judicious budget cuts forced on him by plummeting revenue — for which Mr. Allen is now attacking him — while pursuing goals he’d set as a candidate, including broadening access to early childhood education.

He has refrained from raising questions about Mr. Allen’s character. But when a sitting U.S. senator brandishes a racist term to single out and humiliate a person of color — as Mr. Allen did with the “macaca” episode in his 2006 reelection campaign — the stain is not erased by the passage of six years.

That unscripted moment came from a man with a long-standing fondness for Confederate flags and who opposed a public holiday to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.

In a Congress seized by partisan acrimony, Mr. Allen, who once pledged to knock Democrats’ “soft teeth down their whiny throats,” would be a force for divisiveness. Mr. Kaine, like his mentor Sen. Mark Warner, has the potential to be a deal-maker. That’s more what the Senate needs.