Published November 05, 2012
In Virginia, two political titans -- Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen -- are duking it out in an extremely close race for a Senate seat. Both are former governors, both have name recognition and after months of campaigning both are stuck in a statistical dead heat.
The candidates have raised nearly $30 million combined, and more than $40 million has been poured into the race by outside groups - the most of any non-presidential race in the country, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Both parties say it's worth it.
At stake is the Senate seat being vacated by Jim Webb, the Democrat who beat Allen four years ago.
There are 33 Senate seats up for election across the country this year. Population shifts have turned Virginia into a competitive battleground and the race here is one that could determine whether Democrats maintain control in the Senate or hand over power to the Republicans.
Both men governed the state in very different economic climates. Allen held the position from 1994 to 1998 during a time of prosperity and growth in both the state and nation. Kaine was at the helm from 2006 to 2010 and navigated the commonwealth through one of the sharpest economic downturns in state history.
There is little the candidates agree on. Kaine favors a balanced approach to deficit-cutting and says he'd allow Bush-era tax cuts to expire for incomes more than $500,000 a year - twice the level proposed by the Obama administration. He also advocates taking away subsidies for "big oil" companies.
In a debate hosted by the state's AARP and League of Women Voters, both candidates were asked what they'd do to preserve Medicare and Social Security. Allen favors raising the eligibility age for people younger than 50 and reducing benefits for wealthier seniors while Kaine said he opposes the privatization of both programs.
In this extremely close political battle, both camps have saturated the airwaves with negative ads. Allen says Kaine will raise taxes and spend irresponsibly. Kaine says Allen has no realistic plan to solve the country's fiscal problems.
In Virginia, a state that has a heavy military and defense industry presence, one issue weighing on voters are severe cuts to the federal budget triggered by the debt-ceiling stalemate last year. These cuts, called sequestration, were set in motion by the Budget Control Act of July 2011, and would reduce the nation's gross domestic product by $215 billion and cost the country 2.1 million jobs, according to George Mason University economist Stephen Fuller.
If the cuts take place - they are scheduled to go into effect in January - communities in Virginia would be among the hardest hit in the country. Seventy-five percent of the defense dollars are in Northern Virginia and another 17% will impact the Hampton Roads and Virginia Beach area. In all, Virginia could lose more than 200,000 jobs.
"When they roll through the economy, 45% of the impact will be jobs at companies that didn't know they had any direct connection to federal spending," Fuller said. "They are main street."
Since 2009 the state has gained 24,300 jobs and ranks 23rd highest in foreclosure rates.
For 10 presidential races in a row, Virginia has voted reliably Republican, but Obama's 2008 win turned the state blue. Now the GOP is pooling its political might and trying to take back what it regards as its turf. Allen has targeted conservative voters, specifically in the military communities near Virginia Beach and in the state's rural areas. Kaine's base is strongest in Northern Virginia. Both candidates have taken advantage of social media to get the word out but have also deployed foot soldiers to campaign old-school style, going door-to-door to sway undecided voters.
During the last days leading up to the election, Allen and Kaine called on big-name political allies as they zig-zagged their way across the state.
On Saturday, Allen made an appearance with Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan at a private aircraft hangar in Richmond while Kaine attended a rally in Bristow, Va., with Obama, former President Bill Clinton and U.S. Sen. Jim Webb.
Both candidates are scheduled to watch election returns in Richmond Tuesday night. They'll be less than a mile apart.