The two rivals vying for a U.S. Senate seat in Virginia ended their fifth and final debate Thursday with spirited clashes over what consequences their policies would have on the military.
Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine also had sharp and personal exchanges over energy policy, the “Obamacare” health reforms and the solvency of Social Security and Medicare in the hour-long televised debate.
With 19 days remaining until Election Day in a close race that could determine whether the Democrats lose their narrow Senate majority, Allen again tried to back Kaine into a corner for his support of the 2011 bipartisan agreement that raised the nation's debt limit conditioned on $1.5 billion in subsequent deficit reductions.
Partisan differences over the targeted reductions torpedoed a congressional compromise, and unless they reach a deal soon, $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts kick in on Jan. 2, half of them to defense. With Virginia having the highest percentage of military and defense-dependent households in the nation, the state would reel economically under the pending cuts, called “sequestration.”
Allen, ignoring support for sequestration 14 months ago from Republicans including House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and GOP vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan, accused Kaine and the Democrats of using about 200,000 Virginia families as “bargaining chips” to win GOP support for tax increases that would help reduce the deficit.
But rather than retreat into a corner, Kaine uncoiled on Allen, cutting him off with a passionate, personal reply.
“You and I are both fathers, and this one is very personal to me,” Kaine said, turning toward Allen and pointing at him. Son Nat Kaine, a recent George Washington University graduate, is a newly commissioned Marine lieutenant.
“I'm not going to do things that are going to hurt troops or hurt defense or hurt veterans,” Kaine said over Allen's efforts to clarify himself.
Throughout the night, Kaine was loose and relaxed in contrast to Allen's, slower, practiced performance. At times, he launched into attacks on Kaine only to have them boomerang on him.
Allen went after Kaine as he has for 18 months for his two-year role as President Barack Obama's chief acolyte and fundraiser when he headed the Democratic National Committee -- for one year, while he was governor.
“Tim had a choice to make as governor. He talked about the economic crisis in Virginia -- over 100,000 jobs were being lost -- and he chose to go around the country demonizing Republicans. He called Republicans corrosive, the Donner party, the tea bag party. That is not bipartisan,” Allen said.
But Kaine replied that Allen neglected to note the two years he spent during his previous Senate term, from 2001 to 2007, as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He also chastised Allen for suggesting that Kaine was betraying Virginia by his close relationship with and support for Obama.
“I do not think it is anti-Virginia to support the president of the United States,” Kaine said. “George has made it very plain he will not consider a President Obama a partner.”
“When George was in the Senate, he voted with President (George W.) Bush 96 percent of the time, but no one had the temerity to suggest that George Allen wasn't a Virginia senator because he supported President Bush,” Kaine said.
Both candidates were asked whether they would support another deficit reduction proposal presented by a bipartisan commission Obama appointed and headed by former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, a Democrat who was White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton.
“The Bowles-Simpson approach was an idea from the president and the president walked away from it as if it was a dead animal on the front porch,” Allen said. But pressed by debate panelists whether he would vote for it as is, Allen never gave a yes-or-no reply, saying only that it should work its way through Congress. Allen has said repeatedly that he would not support deficit reductions that involve any new taxes.
Kaine answered for them both.
“I would support a plan that, like Simpson-Bowles, makes two or three dollars' worth of cuts for every dollar of new revenue,” Kaine said. “If it's as is, we're both saying no.”
At the debate's end, the wear of the campaign showed on each candidate.
“I'm glad that's the last one,” Kaine, who has pushed for additional debates, said as he and Allen shook hands.