By Paul Kanellopoulos
Virginia Senator Jim Webb’s (D) decision not to seek re-election has put many GW Law students in the middle of one of the most important races this electoral season. With thirty-three of the 100 seats in the Senate hanging in the balance this November, the winner could determine which party gets the critical fifty-first vote needed for a majority.
Former Virginia Governors Tim Kaine (D) and George Allen (R, also a former senator) are going head to head in the race, and according to the Campaign Finance Institute, they have spent more money than any other senatorial campaign. Mr. Webb defeated Mr. Allen for the seat in 2006.
Both candidates have spent time in the DC area as they double down heading into the final leg of campaign season. The candidates held competing events, attempting to energize their supporters in the region: Kaine appeared with the National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority Foundation in Dulles while Allen met with defense contractors in Arlington.
The hotly contested race has been a spotlight for many issues on the national stage, with Mr. Kaine and Mr. Allen offering stark contrasts in several major policy areas.
Although both candidates agree with the need for a balanced budget and reduced federal spending, they are divided on how to achieve it. Mr. Allen supports measures like a flat tax rate and a balanced-budget amendment and resists further measures to increase the tax rate of high-income earners. Mr. Kaine, on the other hand, advocates a combination of spending cuts and tax increases for individuals earning more than $500,000 a year, coupled with investments in education and energy infrastructure.
Mr. Kaine believes that it’s impossible to eliminate the deficit without the increased revenue from additional taxes, while Mr. Allen favors limiting government intervention in the private sector to stimulate job creation.
With Virginia being home to a large array of military bases and defense contractors, cutting the military budget has become their central point of divergence on fiscal policy. Mr. Allen has attacked Mr. Kaine for his support of last year’s debt ceiling deal, which could require automatic cuts in the defense budget at the end of the year and advocates for increased military spending. Mr. Kaine, on the other hand, would push for targeted cuts in military expenditures to further balance the budget.
Beyond fiscal issues, the two candidates offer diverging perspectives on reproductive rights.
These differences reflect the controversies that have brought Virginia into the national spotlight over the past year after one bill was introduced in the state legislature that would require women to undergo ultrasounds before abortions and a “personhood” measure was introduced that would proclaim that life begins at conception.
While Mr. Allen has pushed hard on the sequestration issue, Mr. Kaine has fired back on the issue of reproductive rights. Mr. Kaine has accused Mr. Allen of downplaying issues of reproductive rights, while firmly indicating his continuous support for abortion rights.
The candidate’s divergent platforms reflect the changing demographics in Virginia, which could play a substantial role in determining the outcome of the race. The candidates’ personal lives have also played a role. As a former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Mr. Kaine has been criticized by Mr. Allen as a stooge of President Barack Obama’s, an argument that plays better the worse President Obama does in Virginia.
Mr. Allen, on the other hand, made controversial comments during his 2006 Senate reelection campaign when he stated that an Indian supporter of Mr. Webb’s was a “macacca” – a pejorative term used by French colonialist in Africa to refer to darker skinned people. These remarks have come back to haunt Mr. Allen this year in his bid to regain his old Senate seat.
Although Mr. Allen strongly contends that women’s primary concern is the economy and job growth, he is facing a 14-point deficit amongst women voters in the polls. His ability to successfully obtain the Senate bid will rely on winning enough crossover voters to overcome the gender gap.
Polls of the race currently favor Mr. Kaine, however, the increasingly close race is sure to go down to the wire.