It didn't seem like an 11-months-before-Election-Day debate in Richmond, Va., Wednesday. The face-off of U.S. Senate candidates and former Virginia governors Tim Kaine and George Allen felt more like the final weeks of a hard-fought, bitter battle to the end. And that is likely what it will be from now until Nov. 6, 2012.
Democrat Kaine seemed better prepared. No pauses, no stammering, no hesitation in defending President Obama's health care reform plan, the stimulus package or the need to raise the debt ceiling. He blamed Allen and his GOP Senate colleagues for big spending that started the deficit spiral. Longtime Virginia political analyst Robert Holsworth described Kaine's aggressive style this way,
"What you saw out of Tim Kaine today is, he's not just Tim Kaine the nice guy, he's Tim Kaine the litigator who’s going to fight very, very hard," longtime Virginia political analyst Robert Holsworth said.
Republican Allen went armed with a poster board bearing red ink bar graphs, his representation of the Obama years. He stuck to his game plan at every opportunity, hammering away at Kaine as part of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid team.
"What you saw out of George Allen was nationalization of this campaign," Holsworth said.
Any question about whether Allen's 2006 "macaca" gaffe would be part of the 2012 race was answered in the first 10 minutes. It came up when Kaine was asked about an aide's statement that macaca was fair game. Kaine said he credits Allen for apologizing but then suggested the macaca moment was part of a pattern -- that Allen has a history of using bullying rhetoric. When Allen's turn came he apologized, as he's done probably dozens if not hundreds of times by now. He acknowledged he never should have singled out the young man working for an opponent on the 2006 campaign trail.
Will it be the final word on macaca in this race? Probably not.