Political sniping muddles bipartisanship claims in Virginia Senate race

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Republican George Allen released a new television ad Wednesday boasting of his bipartisan achievements as governor of Virginia. Just days before, his Democratic rival for the U.S. Senate, Tim Kaine, did virtually the same thing.

But even as the two former governors portray themselves as reasonable men willing to negotiate with the other side, Allen and Kaine are at the same time hurling at each other the same sort of partisan attack lines so common in a Congress paralyzed by politics.

Kaine routinely attacks Allen over social issues such as abortion and contraceptives, painting Allen as extreme and anti-woman, a ploy similar to national Democrats' claims that Republicans are waging a "war on women."

Kaine in a recent debate quoted Allen saying he wanted to "knock Democrats' soft teeth down their whiny throats."

Allen, meanwhile, portrays Kaine as a tax-and-spend liberal. In his ads and on the campaign trail, Allen charges that Kaine would be in lock step with President Obama on issues like health care and entitlement reform.

The attacks muddy the waters for Kaine and Allen's efforts to portray themselves as aisle-crossers. So do their resumes. Both have held highly partisan political jobs.

Kaine chaired the Democratic National Committee under Obama, while Allen led the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a fundraising arm of the party. And each claims the position held by the other proves his rival would put party politics ahead of what's best for Virginia.

The contradictory images of candidates professing their bipartisanship while launching partisan attacks were created, in part, by their need to win over a divided electorate on Nov. 6, analysts said.

"Each one of these candidates needs to strongly activate their base by throwing some red meat," said Craig Brians, political science professor at Virginia Tech. "But at the same time they need to reach out to moderates and independent voters and say, 'I'm someone that can cooperate with everyone.' "

Kaine has positioned himself as a Democrat much like Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., one who works with Republicans to reach a compromise on difficult issues like the budget. He emphasizes his cooperation as governor with the Republican Bush administration in Washington.

"I will always be a partner of the president of the United States" regardless of party, Kaine said Monday.

Allen began the campaign linking Kaine to Obama. But Allen's rhetoric shifted as Obama's standing in Virginia improved, and he now focuses on painting Kaine as a fast-spending liberal.

"It is a very tricky time because it's not clear how unpopular Barack Obama is in Virginia," Brians said. "If you tie Tim Kaine to Barack Obama, it might backfire. But George Allen doesn't have much choice than to assume it's going to help him with his Republican base."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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