In Virginia's US Senate race, Democrat Tim Kaine isn't Barack
Obama, and Republican George Allen isn't Mitt Romney or the House
GOP leadership. But you wouldn't know it from the special-interest
ads pouring into this key battleground state.
Republicans think Virginia Senate contender Tim Kaine has got an
"Reckless spending, red ink, higher taxes - [Mr. Kaine and
President Obama] have a lot in common," intones ads created by
Republican super group Crossroads GPS. Kaine's likely foe, former US
senator and former Virginia governor George Allen (R), has put up
billboards calling Kaine "Obama's Senator. Not Virginia's."
The Kaine campaign's response? In short: Bring it on.
"It's time we reject this type of divisive politics," says Kaine,
a former Virginia governor himself, in a fundraising e-mail. "If you
want a Senator who'll partner with the President to do what's best
for the nation, I'm your guy."
In Virginia in 2012, presidential politics is perhaps more
tightly coupled to senatorial politics than anywhere else in the
The race for the White House always affects contests lower on the
ticket. But the Senate contest in Virginia is going to be a battle
where presidential questions - What is the legacy of "Obamacare"?
Who can cut the federal budget, and where? Will the Republican
candidate be conservative enough for the party's restive base? -
will not just weigh heavy on the debate: They very well may be the
debate, leaving both Mr. Allen and Kaine in the wake of presidential
forces far beyond their control.
"They both realize that the national overlay on this election has
an impact that may go far beyond what each of them can do in their
campaigns," says Bob Holsworth, a Richmond-based consultant who has
worked with Virginia governors of both parties.
Consider: Of the 10 US Senate races considered to be the most
competitive, only one other contest - Nevada - is in a swing state.
Both campaigns and independent analysts believe that is leading,
already, to a massive infusion of outside money and attention
unmatched in the commonwealth's recent political history.
Players such as Crossroads GPS, the Chamber of Commerce, and
conservative American Energy Alliance have already committed
millions of dollars to anti-Kaine or anti-Obama advertising in
Virginia. That's been countered by smaller spending by Democratic
"super PAC" Priorities USA and advertisements from President Obama's
campaign. The Republican Senate Campaign Committee already staked
out $5.5 million in advertising space for the fall - its largest
reservation in any state to date.
(Kaine offered Allen a deal whereby both candidates would work to
ensure that outside groups buying ads in Virginia would have to
disclose their donors. Super political-action committees, which can
raise unlimited amounts of money but cannot coordinate directly with
political campaigns, are not legally bound to disclose such
information. Allen declined the offer. Both campaigns have
associated super PACs, although Kaine's group says it will disclose
the names of its donors.)
And it's not just advertising space that's going to be jammed,
with Virginia political observers expecting the state to be packed
with staff from both presidential campaigns.
"By election day, the Obama campaign will dwarf the Virginia
Democratic Party itself and its infrastructure," says Quentin Kidd,
a professor at Christopher Newport University and a Virginia
political pollster. "Your ability as Tim Kaine, US Senate candidate,
no matter how well positioned you are, you aren't well positioned
enough to dominate the agenda that the Obama campaign is going to
impose on Virginia. And I assume the Romney campaign is going to try
to do the same thing."
Just consider how much presidential attention Virginia has
received at even this early hour. When Mr. Obama elected to formally
inaugurate his general election campaign, his campaign wedded
kickoff events in perpetual battleground Ohio to one in Richmond,