Virginia senatorial candidates spar in second debate
Kaine, Allen’s latest televised debate showcases differing opinions, barbs
In a one-hour debate Monday evening addressing everything from job creation to the upcoming Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, former Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine and former Republican Gov. George Allen hardly paused to catch their breaths between attack lines.
The debate was the second televised during Kaine and Allen’s highly contested Senate contest. A survey of likely voters by the conservative-leaning polling firm Rasmussen released last week showed Kaine possessing a seven-point lead, with a 4.5 percent margin of error.
“My opponent when he was governor said his job was to stuff Democrats’ soft teeth down their whiney throats,” Kaine said in his opening statement.
Although Kaine said he had one of his best years as governor while serving as Democratic National Committee chairman, Allen said Kaine’s position distracted him from his governorship. “If Tim had given his governorship his full attention, he might have avoided some mistakes,” Allen said.
Center for Politics spokesperson Geoff Skelley said the debate was not unusually biting, although it offered a sharp contrast to the presidential debate last week.
“I’m not sure if it was any more partisan than normal,” Skelley said. “We forget debates can be pretty sharp back-and-forth affairs.”
Kaine tried the first joke of the night, when he said he would pledge not to cut Big Bird, in reference to Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s discussion of cuts he proposed to public broadcasting during the first presidential debate. The moderators seemed to also learn from the first presidential debate, turning off the candidates’ microphones when they were not speaking. Kaine was stuck offering at least two inaudible rebuttals.
The two sparred over bipartisanship, each holding up his own track record of working across party lines while ripping into his opponent’s.
The debate then moved to women’s issues, where Kaine said Allen supported taking away women’s choices because he did not speak out against a bill that required women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before having an abortion in Virginia. A modified version of the bill that requires a regular ultrasound, not a transvaginal procedure, passed earlier this year.
Allen later said he would support a “Personhood” bill in Virginia, mostly to bring criminals who attacked pregnant women to justice.
The two opponents did find some common ground on the topic of immigration reform: Both support offering more visas to enable workers to come to the United States.
In addressing the expected Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action in college admissions Kaine and Allen said they supported the continuation of affirmative action policies, although Allen took a somewhat ambiguous position. Kaine said he hoped the Court “would affirm that it is okay for a public institution… to make sure that their student body looks like the state looks.”
Allen instead proposed an “affirmative recruitment” policy — a policy he failed to define during the debate — but added that he didn’t “want people who are better qualified to be denied.”
Skelley called Allen’s stance on affirmative action “muddled,” but said it would ultimately have a limited effect on the Senate race.
“I think candidates try to avoid saying too much about it,” Skelley said. “It’s usually better to try and say less.”
During closing statements, Allen said Kaine would continue to support the people he has campaigned for in Washington, whereas Kaine questioned Allen’s spending record as governor.
Skelley said Kaine had gotten a clear lead in the polls because he has managed to get some Romney voters to say they will vote for him.
“Kaine will run a touch ahead of Obama, [so] Kaine could manage to win even if Romney wins Virginia,” Skelley said. “I think Allen’s best hope is that Romney picks up steam in Virginia.”
The two will square off for their last debate before Election Day in Blacksburg Oct. 18.