HOT SPRINGS, Va. -- For a race that hinges heavily on the outcome of the presidential election, there was little mention of the man currently in the White House or the Republican hoping to oust him during Saturday's Virginia U.S. Senate debate.
Instead, the exchange between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen devolved into partisan bickering over who was less partisan and a better fiscal steward. Kaine repeatedly linked Allen to politically toxic Washington, forcing Allen to play defense and deflecting Allen's own attacks on Kaine's friendship with President Obama.
The debate, hosted by the Virginia Bar Association and moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley, was the first between the two former governors, who are locked in one of the nation's most hotly contested races. The duo, deadlocked in the fight over retiring U.S. Sen. Jim Webb's seat, sparred for 75 minutes over taxes, deficit reduction and, because of Friday's mass shooting in Colorado, gun control.
Kaine accused Allen of playing "smashmouth" politics during his first term in the Senate and likened it to the over-the-top partisan rhetoric that prevents productive dialogue in Congress.
Allen retorted that he worked across the aisle on legislation with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John Kerry, both Democrats, but Kaine reminded him that Allen once denounced Clinton as "contrary to all of our values, our principles and our ideals."
When Allen called Kaine Obama's "handpicked" candidate for the Senate, an angry Kaine immediately interrupted, deriding the criticism as another example of Allen's divisiveness."
"For you to say I'm handpicked by somebody else...proves the point that I just made," Kaine said.
Allen steered the debate toward the ailing economy, brushing aside questions from Kaine about Allen's support for anti-abortion legislation and other conservative social measures.
"I'm not running on those issues," Allen said. "I'm running on jobs."
On taxes, the Virginians staked out positions similar to those of their parties' presidential contenders. Kaine said he wants $2 to $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in new tax revenues, in part by allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire for those making $500,000 or more. Allen rejected any call for new taxes and instead said the deficit should be reduced solely through massive spending cuts.
Allen targeted Kaine's support for a budget deal that could slash defense spending by $600 billion -- a potentially devastating blow to Virginia's Pentagon-reliant economy. Kaine accused Allen of being out of step with his own party's leaders - including Gov. Bob McDonnell and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. - in opposing an increase in the nation's borrowing limits.
As the two battle for independent voters, Kaine rarely mentioned Obama but frequently linked himself to various Virginia Republicans and President Bush.
Virginia is traditionally a pro-gun state, but Friday's mass killings in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater raised the issue of gun control. Kaine said he supports requiring background checks for buyers at gun shows, while Allen said such checks are needed only for licensed dealers.