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It was my pleasure to go to Blacksburg last week and see the fifth and final debate between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen in Virginia’s important U.S. Senate race.
Kaine won again, as he clearly had the last time, and some observers say that Kaine has gone 5-0 in debates against Allen this year.
I didn’t see the first three, but what I witnessed last week was a masterful performance by a political leader who has served as a Richmond city councilman, Richmond mayor, Virginia lieutenant governor and, finally, was elected governor in 2005.
Kaine is smart, articulate, and utterly down-to-earth if you’ve ever met him.
During 60 minutes at Virginia Tech’s Haymarket Theatre, he bested George Allen in every respect. His answers were more fact-based, less partisan, and relentless in highlighting Allen’s bitterly partisan history and attitude.
Allen began by trying to discredit Tim Kaine for supposedly being more interested in being “Barack Obama’s senator” than representing Virginia. He criticized Kaine for serving as “national Democrat chairman” during his last year as governor.
(This thing of Republicans saying “Democrat” instead of Democratic is about as childish as John Barnhart putting both words in quotations every chance he gets; more about him later.)
Naturally, Kaine responded by saying there’s certainly nothing “anti-Virginia” about supporting the president of the United States, who, we all remember, carried this state in 2008 and may well do so again.
He reminded Allen that he’d voted 96 percent of the time (the moderator later said 98 percent) with George W. Bush, yet no one had called him “George W. Bush’s senator.”
In a time when most people would like to see less partisanship and more cooperation in Congress, Kaine reminded viewers of Allen’s viciously partisan past. He not only refused to join “the gang of 14,” where Virginia’s John Warner and six other Republicans worked with seven Democrats to reduce the deficit, he ridiculed it, saying this was “no time to compromise.”
In past debates, Kaine had also reminded voters of an Allen statement that may well be the most hateful and partisan ever uttered by a Virginia politician. After being nominated for governor in 1995, Allen told his supporters that they should “knock their (Democrats) soft teeth down their whiny throats.”
And, of course, there’s the “macaca” incident from 2006. As the Washington Post noted in endorsing Tim Kaine, that statement has not lost its relevance just because it’s six years old.
Allen felt the need to cast a racial slur at a young Indian-American volunteer for candiate Jim Webb. He also told the young man that he was in “the real Virginia,” an obvious reference to the white faces that dominated the crowd.
Now, as to Barnhart, I’ve been very amused by his obsession with a private fundraiser Kaine held in Bedford several weeks back. He had apparently hoped to use the occasion to ask another tired old question about Jens Soering. But because it was private – you know, meaning, well, private – he wasn’t invited.
Private fundraisers are held all the time in campaigns. John Barnhart should know that. It’s politics 101.
At any rate, I’d like to answer the question he posed in a subsequent column: Is Tim Kaine afraid of the Bedford Bulletin? No, he’s not.
He’s also not afraid of George Allen, whom he will most likely defeat on Nov. 6. Then, Allen can retire to “the real Virginia” and unfurl that Confederate flag he’s always been so fond of.
And, of course, in “the real Virginia,” no one will bother him about it, will they?
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.