- Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 January 2012 00:00
- Published on Wednesday, 04 January 2012 00:00
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While Virginia politics is rarely dull, and has its share of hard fought campaigns, the number of titanic battles is relatively few. The last election for governor was a blowout for the Republicans. Not much of a fight at all. While the two prior gubernatorial contests, while competitive, landed easily in the laps of the Democrats. Some may argue that 2006, when George Allen lost to Jim Webb was one of those mighty struggles. But it wasn’t. Allen lost, but it wasn’t a battle between political giants. Now, retiring Senator Webb was an outsider to Virginia politics and wasn’t initially given much of a chance to win. However, Allen’s seemingly endless missteps, combined with a general anti-Bush and anti-Iraq war sentiment, made it a surprise victory for the Democrats.
Truly great political contests, where the opponents are evenly matched, where big names and big reputations are on the line, and where the two opponents, hold more or less an equal strength, are surprisingly few. Ollie North’s battle against Senator and former Governor Chuck Robb comes close. But, in many respects that was more political theater than it was a battle between powerful opponents. George Allen’s victory over Chuck Robb in 2000 was pretty
much expected. Going further back, that is for the few of you who can remember that far back, the battle between the late Henry Howell and Mills Godwin for the Governorship in 1973 comes close. It was a show down. But it was also another era.
However, this year, it looks like we’re going to be treated to a political battle that may surpass any we have seen in recent times. That’s the contest, in spite of primaries that still have to be held, between Democrat and former Governor Tim Kaine, and former Senator and Governor, George Allen. Both have held the state’s top office, both were relatively popular in office and both have been active at the national level. Kaine was Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Allen, was chair of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee during one of the GOP’s best years for picking up seats, and for a short time, until he lost his seat in the Senate, was running for President. What this means is that both men will have unique access to funds, national endorsements, and outside political support. Add to that the fact that both parties see Virginia as vital to whichever side ends up winning control of the Senate. Like it or not the Commonwealth will be in the national spotlight.
At the moment, both candidates are doing well in fundraising, and a limited TV campaign has already begun. Actually, the ads started in the early fall of 2011, when a group opposing Kaine began running negative ads. As political ads go, they weren’t very good, and Allen, probably had nothing to do with them, but they were the first sign of just how negative this race would be. The two, neither officially their party’s nominees yet, have already debated. In fact, that debate occurred almost a year before the election. And that too gives you an idea of what we’re in for in 2012.
The polls show them evenly matched, and a lot will depend on how well each sells their respective brand. Kaine, carrying the baggage of being a former Democratic National Committee Chair, will have to reestablish the moderate image that got him elected in 2005. Allen, on the other hand has to shake the “has been” and “loser” label that many on the Democratic side, and even some of his fellow Republicans, have tried to pin on him. To do this, he has written a book about sports and politics, outlined a plan with his own ideas about reviving the economy, and most of all, he seems to have toned down the rhetoric a little. It was his off the cuff remarks, many ill thought out, which probably did the most to damage his 2006 campaign.
But, also, this won’t be just any election year. 2012 is a Presidential year, and in spite of a tough term, President Obama plans to try hard to win Virginia again. It won’t be easy, but there will be a lot of the Obama campaign resources aimed at Virginia and whether that helps Kaine or hurts him is a major “what if.” Allen will be counting on a continuation of the Republican tide and a strong hope that he will be carried along with it. On the other hand, even if Obama fails to land Virginia a second time, which seems at the moment the likely outcome, Kaine is hoping for a little ticket splitting.
It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be bloody, it’s going to be expensive, and unless you want to move to another state, or perhaps, further away than that, the only thing to do is hunker down and get ready for a political battle of epic proportions.