GOP Aims to Nationalize Allen vs. Kaine Race in Virginia

GOP Aims to Nationalize Allen vs. Kaine Race in Virginia

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - November 17, 2011

When Virginians head to the polls next November, Republican Senate candidate George Allen hopes they will cast their ballots with these hot-buttons issues in mind: a testy National Labor Relations Board decision blocking Boeing from moving an airline plant to a right-to-work state; federal environmental regulations that are holding up the construction of the Keystone XL, a pipeline that would transport crude oil from Canada to the United States; the health care law -- dubbed “Obamacare” by Republicans -- that requires everyone to carry health insurance; and the White House’s 2009 stimulus package and the more recent one presented as a jobs bill.

But the NLRB decision impacts South Carolina, the pipeline would run from Alberta to Texas, and the Democrats' health care and spending legislation impacts the Old Dominion only insofar as Virginia is part of the United States. So why is Allen (pictured) pushing these issues in his campaign to turn the state's currently blue Senate seat red?

The answer is simple: He’s nationalizing the race. It’s a strategy Republicans are employing to some degree in almost every state, while Democrats are attempting to do the exact opposite: localize the races. But two factors make it more salient in Virginia: The first is that both parties now consider it a key swing state, one of the half-dozen or so bellwethers that will determine not just whether the U.S. Senate remains in Democratic hands, but also who will assume (or keep) the presidency.

The second factor is that Allen’s likely Democratic opponent in 2012 is Tim Kaine. Like Allen, Kaine is a former governor who left the statehouse in Richmond with high approval ratings. But Kaine is also a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. And as both candidates vie for the opportunity to replace retiring Sen. Jim Webb, Allen is making clear his strategy of tying Kaine to President Obama.

It’s not much of a stretch: Kaine endorsed Obama early, was the president’s choice to head the DNC, and remains close to him. But Allen’s strategy is interesting for another reason: Barack Obama carried Virginia in 2008, and his re-election campaign is determined to do it again.

Kaine hasn’t tried to dodge Obama, whose job approval numbers, though rising slightly of late, are still underwater. In an interview this week with the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, Kaine said while he disagrees with the president on a few issues (engaging in Libya without congressional approval is one example), he supports him. “I’m not backing off an inch,” he said. And he is wise not to.

The Obama campaign has been on the ground in every corner of the Old Dominion for 2½ years, and has held roughly 2,000 events since the president announced his re-election plans in April, according to regional press secretary Frank Benenati. And the organization is prepared to give Kaine a lot of what he needs. "President Obama and Governor Kaine have a long relationship and they support each other fully,” Benenati said in a statement to RCP. “While they will both run their own races based on their own individual accomplishments and records, we do expect that they will campaign together in the future as they have already done this cycle."

Kaine’s strategy in Virginia looks remarkably different from Allen’s. The Democrat is targeting individual counties and local issues, and reminding voters he ended his term as governor with a budget surplus, which he passed on to popular Republican governor and Allen supporter Bob McDonnell. Like Allen, Kaine has been campaigning hard throughout the state, meeting in small groups with the business community, manufacturers and various industry leaders. But he has kept his rhetoric Virginia-centric.

Earlier this month, while Allen was soliciting comments from his opponent about Obama delaying construction of the Keystone pipeline until after the elections (Kaine has been mum on the issue), the Kaine camp put forth a handful statements involving such issues as a federal grant to improve a Virginia highway and a White House declaration of Hampton’s Fort Monroe as a national monument (intended to create a couple thousand jobs in Virginia).

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Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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