Winning a game of chess against an equally skilled opponent is as much about avoiding mistakes as it is attacking. But unlike chess, where a stalemate is possible, in politics someone has to win.
So far, the race in Virginia for U.S. Senate between George Allen and Tim Kaine has been an exercise in caution.
When averaged together, recent polls have the candidates in a dead heat. Thirteen percent of the electorate is undecided. Their votes -- along with the success of campaigns, parties and interest groups to turn out the base -- will determine the election.
Neither Allen or Kaine has strayed outside party orthodoxy, waded into anything resembling troubled waters or launched a notable offensive at his opponent. The few blows that have been exchanged were predictable and fruitless.
It's almost as if the candidates are ignoring each other or have attained an unspoken détente while they slowly position their pieces on the board.
All of this non-campaigning is happening in a key battleground state.
Some observers pin the conclusion of the Senate race to the results of Romney vs. Obama. An Obama win in Virginia will bring with it victory for Kaine; if Romney collects the Commonwealth’s electoral votes, Allen will be its next senator.
An outcome along those lines is by no means assured, but perhaps it is influencing the thinking of both camps: Don’t take chances today and risk a gaffe that could prevent a ride on presidential coattails.
It's hard to imagine the next six and a half months without fireworks. However, if Allen and Kaine wait too long to engage one another, they risk being drowned out by the presidential race.
So come on, gentlemen candidates, make a real play for undecided voters. Stake out some turf beyond partisan borders that appeals to those in the middle. By doing so, you necessarily dare your opponent to do the same. This is what “the undecided” want. They are interested in innovation and will reward bravery.
Sure, Allen and Kaine can play it safe and hope coattails carry them to Washington, but are Romney and Obama reliable enough baskets for all the eggs?
No matter who wins the White House, Virginia will have a new senator in 2013. Allen and Kaine need to distinguish themselves from their respective parties and presidential nominees. The middle is waiting.
Chuck Thies is a political analyst and consultant. His columns appear every Tuesday and Thursday on First Read DMV. He co-hosts "DC Politics" on WPFW, 89.3 FM. Since 1991, Chuck has lived in either D.C., Maryland or Virginia. Email your tips and complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at @chuckthies.