Too close to call

Published 6:18 pm Saturday, June 16, 2012

Enough with the preliminaries. Let’s get ready to rumble.

The showdown between political heavyweights George Allen and Tim Kaine for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Jim Webb, D-Va., is now official, Allen having cruised to victory, as expected, in Tuesday’s GOP primary over three spunky but underfunded challengers.

Polls show a tight race, within the margin of error, much like polls of Virginians’ preference in the presidential race. Real Clear Politics’ average of recent poll results shows Kaine, the Democrat, with a 2-percentage-point advantage over Allen, the Republican. A similar average of presidential polls shows President Barack Obama with a 3-point lead over Mitt Romney, suggesting that the Allen-Kaine race will be decided strictly along partisan lines.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

The two races will share the same ballot on Nov. 6 and might just combine to generate a voter turnout that rivals the record-shattering turnout of 2008, when Obama made history as the nation’s first black president, thanks in no small part to winning Virginia’s Electoral College votes. Here in Suffolk, a hotly contested mayoral race will further fuel voter interest.

It’s hard to believe that six years have passed since Allen’s “macaca moment” in a race against Webb derailed not only a second term in the Senate but the popular Republican’s presidential ambitions. Webb won by a nose.

Voters tend to have short memories, so the Allen racial slur of 2006 is likely to be a non-factor in November, even if Kaine dredges it up. More problematic for Allen is the strength of his opponent. Webb, an honorable, low-key fellow, was an uneasy politician from the beginning and never seemed to relish the combat of the political arena. That probably explains his decision to bow out after one term in Washington. Chuck Robb, whom Allen unseated from the Senate in 2000, was another mild-mannered centrist.

Kaine, on the other hand, pines for a good political fight. After leaving the governor’s mansion in 2010, he ran the national Democratic Party for a couple of years, guiding the party’s electoral efforts all across the country. He is as politically astute as they come.

Allen and Kaine could hardly be more different philosophically. That may be why opinion polls show very few voters who are undecided.

Their race is less about appealing to the swing voters than about who can most energize his base. It should be a fun one to watch.