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Allen, Kaine Face Off in First Debate

Allen, Kaine Face Off in First Debate

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - December 8, 2011


RICHMOND, Va. -- With a little under a year to go until Virginia voters decide who will be their next U.S. senator, former Govs. Tim Kaine and George Allen faced off in a debate here Wednesday and made clear the race will be a hard fought one between two very different candidates.

In the first few minutes of the debate hosted by the Associated Press at the state Capitol, Allen (a former senator and governor) essentially painted Kaine (a former governor who served most recently as chairman of the Democratic National Committee) as a President Obama proxy while Kaine labeled his opponent a Washington politician who supported George W. Bush’s policies that led, Kaine said, to the recession.

Allen referred to Kaine as “Chairman” and Kaine termed Allen’s Senate bid as a “re-election campaign.” Indeed, the Republican’s 2006 re-election campaign -- during which he famously referred to an Indian-American Democratic volunteer as “macaca" -- was brought up by the moderator, who asked Kaine to comment on Allen’s use of what is widely perceived to be an ethnic slur. (Allen has apologized several times for using the word.)

“There was no mistake about what those words meant,” said Kaine. “The implication was that this young student was less of an American than George or you and me. For whatever reason he said it, it is part of the divisive politics we’ve got to put behind us.”

The Kaine campaign told reporters in a conference call ahead of the debate that anything in a candidate’s record is “fair game” in this race.

In an interview with RealClearPolitics last week, Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell said Allen, whom he has endorsed, can recover from the “macaca” comment not only because voters are focused on jobs, but also because they are forgiving.

“Americans by nature are a very resilient and forgiving people, if you admit a mistake and don’t make excuses for it,” he said. “We’re a nation of second chances.”

Kaine’s own history is a focal point of his opponent’s campaign strategy. Allen asked Kaine why, in his final year as governor, he took on the “most political, partisan job in America” -- DNC chairman.

Kaine defended his choice as a call to serve “the president, who has helped capture [Osama] Bin Laden and wipe out the al-Qaeda leadership.” He countered that in his last year as governor, Virginia was named by CNBC as the best state for business, even in the midst of a recession. When pressed by Allen on why he supported policies, such as the stimulus bill, put forth “by the likes of President Obama,” Kaine pushed back with, “Wiping out al-Qaeda? Stopping the Iraq war? Saving the auto industry? That’s not being consistent with Virginia’s interest?”

Kaine, who was among the first governors to endorse Obama in the last campaign cycle, hasn’t tried to distance himself from the president. During the debate, he said he would not vote to repeal the president’s health care law as a senator and called the measure “a big step forward.” Moreover, he has focused his campaign around local issues.

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

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