Virginia Senate candidates Tim Kaine and George Allen faced off Monday night for the first time on national television, going after each other on everything from women's issues to governing styles as both begin making a final push in one of the most competitive and closely-watched races of the season.
over the summer, polls suggested the race was effectively a tie between the candidates. But in recent weeks, Kaine, the Democratic former governor, appeared to be making gains, with a handful of polls showing him taking the lead over his opponent.
Still, neither Kaine nor Republican George Allen, a former senator and governor, has been able to eke out a definitive lead over a prolonged period of time. With less than a month to go before the election, both candidates are honing their messages and ramping up outreach efforts across the state.
As former statewide politicians, both Allen and Kaine are well-known entities in Virginia -- and both have been capitalizing on the opportunity to mine their opponent's record for damning evidence to use against them.
In last night's debate, the candidates' fourth of the campaign cycle, Allen struggled to answer questions about his support for "personhood" and legislation requiring women to have an ultrasound before having an abortion - both of which were controversial issues that arose in the Virginia state legislature this year.
"Some of those issues are state issues on informed consent," Allen replied, according to Politico. He then pivoted to tout his support for contraceptive access, which was not part of the question. "I would never prohibit contraceptives. I think women ought to be able to have access and should be able to have access to contraceptives."
In a press release the next day, Kaine hammered Allen for trying to "dodge questions on closing the pay gap and legislation that limits women's health care choices." He painted himself as someone who "understands that women's issues are really economic issues" and can make a "strong defense for equal pay and full preventive health care."
Allen, meanwhile, accused Kaine of caring more about national political interests than of the interests of Virginians, pointing to his rival's tenure as chair of the Democratic National Committee.
"How does a governor decide to take on a second job that sends him all over the country while over 100,000 jobs are being lost in Virginia?" he asked. "As governor, you only get four years to have a positive impact on people's lives. You could've told the president you needed to give all of your attention to the people of Virginia. You did not give them 100 percent."
"George Allen contrasted records of priorities in the U.S. Senate debate last night with Tim Kaine, highlighting his own record of putting Virginians first versus Tim Kaine's record of choosing party politics first," the Allen campaign said Tuesday in a press release. "Even though he traveled the country giving political speeches and raising campaign money, Tim Kaine called his last year as Governor his 'best year.' That's news to Virginians who remember him leaving office with 100,000 fewer jobs, deep education cuts, closed rest stops and a tax increase plan unanimously rejected by Republicans and Democrats."
"I will always be a partner with the president of the United States, whoever that president is," Kaine told Allen during the debate, according to the Washington Post.
Kaine also objected to Allen's plan for Medicare, which involves raising the eligibility age and cutting some benefits for wealthy seniors. Allen targeted the DREAM Act as rewarding "illegal behavior" and making comprehensive immigration reform less likely.
On Tuesday, the Allen campaign announced that it would be releasing two new campaign ads, "My Life" and "Forced," which accuses Kaine of waging a "war on coal." Both ads will run in Southwest Virginia -- coal country -- according to the campaign.
Meanwhile, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (GPS), a Republican advocacy group co-founded by Karl Rove, released an anti-Kaine spot in Virginia as part of a $4 million, pro-GOP Senate advertising campaign.
The Kaine campaign, too, released a new ad yesterday, entitled "Great Team," highlighting Kaine's record working with current Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner. A spokesperson for the Kaine camp noted that the campaign raised $4.5 million in the fourth quarter from 40,000 donors.
The outcome may be determined by what happens at the top of the ticket. President Obama and Mitt Romney are currently in the midst of a hard-fought battle to win Virginia, and recent polls show them in a tight race.