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In Va., Kaine and Allen Seek Elusive Ticket-Splitters

In Va., Kaine and Allen Seek Elusive Ticket-Splitters

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - November 3, 2012


RICHMOND, Va. -- Mary White, a retired guidance counselor from Northumberland, Va., drove an hour and a half from her home in the state's northern neck to attend a Mitt Romney rally near Richmond, arriving early to snag a seat. White is eager to vote for the Republican presidential nominee on Tuesday -- she points with pride to a Romney pin on her right lapel -- but when asked whom she will support in the U.S. Senate race there, she pauses to think.

“I’m not too particular about which one wins. I think [Tim] Kaine would do just as well as [George] Allen,” she says, referring to the Democratic and Republican candidates, respectively. Asked whether she saw differences between the two men, both former governors of the state, White wrinkles her nose. “Not a whole lot. I like [Kaine] more as a man than Allen. Both have been good as governors.”

Conventional wisdom over the course of this race has suggested that Kaine’s and Allen’s fates depend on how the tops of the two tickets perform here. But after five debates, nearly $60 million in spending by both the candidates and outside groups, and with more ads on air that can be reasonably absorbed, the Senate race appears to have some fluidity. In the final weekend of the campaign, the opponents are still appealing to a small sliver of the electorate that may be firm in their presidential picks but unsure about the down-ballot race. According to polling data and interviews with campaign strategists, these voters are more likely to be independent Romney backers.

The presidential contest in Virginia is among the closest in the nation. The RCP Average shows Romney ahead by 0.3 points, and polls show Obama’s support shrinking since his historic win in the Old Dominion (by seven points) four years ago. But the Senate race between two well-known political heavyweights has been in a virtual dead heat for the past year, with Kaine now leading in the RCP Average by just under a single point, and Senate control possibly hinging on the election’s outcome.

Allen campaigned across Virginia with Romney on Thursday, hoping those who turn out to support the GOP nominee will pull the lever for him as well. He has been running a national campaign from the start, attaching Kaine to the policies of Obama, whom Kaine served as Democratic National Committee chairman. Allen has sought to bring national issues home, hitting the White House for burdensome EPA regulations that could hurt jobs in Virginia coal country, and focusing on potential defense cuts that threaten roughly 200,000 Virginians, mostly in the north and around Hampton Roads. At a rally in Doswell, a half-hour north of Richmond, Allen introduced GOP standard-bearer and characterized Virginia as the place that would determine which party runs both the White House and the Senate.

Some in attendance seemed to need the reminder. Asked after the rally whom she would be supporting in the Senate race, Ellen Neal, a health care professional from Victoria, crossed her arms to mull the question. “Is that the one with [Eric] Cantor?” she asked, referencing the area’s congressman and House majority leader. When told Allen’s name, she nodded emphatically and pointed to an Allen sticker beneath the collar of her jacket.

Kaine is banking on Obama’s entrenched ground game for high base turnout, and is confident that (as many polls indicate) voters who back the president will automatically choose the Democratic Senate candidate. But in the final days, Kaine’s team also hopes to cut into what they see as “soft” Allen support -- those who back Romney but aren’t so wed to Allen that they couldn’t be convinced to split the ticket.

That’s why a roomful of volunteers at a phone bank in Richmond Thursday evening were focused on persuading voters to do just that. The Kaine team will ramp up its get-out-the-vote effort over the weekend, but will also continue trying to persuade voters right until the end. Kaine has made a bipartisan pitch from the beginning of the race, touting his decades of public service in Virginia despite his partisan role as DNC chairman. He has been campaigning across the state with popular Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, who has been actively involved in bipartisan deficit-reduction efforts on the Hill. (Kaine is perhaps the only candidate running this cycle to feature George W. Bush in an ad. He cited the former president to explain how he worked with the opposition party to get a transportation project funded in Northern Virginia.)

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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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