Democrat Tim Kaine celebrates his Senate victory on stage with supporters… (JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS )
Timothy M. Kaine defeated George Allen in Virginia’s Senate race Tuesday night, the climax of an intensely watched matchup that cost more than $80 million.
Allen (R) conceded the race to Kaine (D) just before 11 p.m. Tuesday. With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Kaine had a narrow but clear lead in the nation’s most expensive Senate race.
The contest for the seat held by retiring Sen. James Webb (D) had been neck-and-neck all along, confirming Virginia’s battleground status. For the past decade, Republicans and Democrats have traded control of the governor’s mansion, the General Assembly and U.S. Senate seats.
Once reliably Republican, the commonwealth has become much more competitive because of its changing population, particularly in fast-growing Northern Virginia. Its evolving demographics helped Barack Obama carry the state in 2008, the first Democratic presidential candidate to do so in 44 years, and Obama won it again Tuesday.
“Both Tim and I have had the highest honor anybody can be accorded, to serve as governor. . . . I also had the opportunity to serve in the U.S. Senate,” Allen told supporters at the Omni Hotel in Richmond. “Now, Tim Kaine will have the opportunity to serve in the United States Senate.”
Kaine, who was at the nearby Marriott Hotel, thanked Allen for his public service and said that although they disagreed on many issues, “we both share a deep love for the commonwealth and this country.”
“This is the time to find common solutions to our nation’s common problems,” Kaine told supporters. “That is the Virginia way.”
The balloting marked the end of a marathon race between two widely known, personally popular former governors with national profiles who made sharply different bets about what message would resonate in Virginia.
Kaine’s victory is a vindication of the moderate, bridge-building brand of politics touted by both him and Sen. Mark Warner (D), the man Kaine succeeded in the governor’s mansion. Kaine repeatedly touted his willingness to strike compromises and work with both parties, particularly on averting looming defense cuts that would disproportionately affect Virginia.
“Kaine ran as a centrist, in fact he ran to the right of the top of the ticket,” said Mark Rozell, a public policy professor at George Mason University. “That has been the formula for success for Democratic candidates in Virginia.”
Allen, by contrast, ran on a solidly conservative platform of lower taxes and smaller government. Although he cited his past record working with Democrats, particularly as governor, Allen emphasized that a leader’s job is to set clear priorities and persuade others to follow.
Allen’s defeat marked a failure in his quest for redemption after losing the seat to Webb in 2006. Allen had been the favorite in that contest, and a legitimate contender for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, until an incident when he referred to an Indian American Democratic campaign worker as “macaca,” an ethnic slur in some cultures. The unwelcome spotlight was then turned on Allen’s temperament and past brushes with racial controversy.
Calling himself humbled by the loss, Allen ran in 2012 as a calmer, less colorful and more on-message candidate. His campaign worked to boost his standing with women and moderates, while keeping a narrow focus on economic issues.
“Tonight after a very hard-fought contest, we’re reminded how closely divided we are,” Allen said Tuesday. “I’m very glad we did get off the sidelines.”
The two men squabbled over tax cuts for the wealthy, health-care reform, defense spending cuts and Obama. Allen frequently accused Kaine, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, of putting Obama’s interests ahead of Virginia’s, while Kaine dismissed the charge as divisive and disrespectful to the office of the presidency.
Combined they raised more than $30 million, with Kaine beating Allen in every fundraising period. An additional $50 million was pumped in by outside groups — 60 percent of it to benefit Allen — the most of any contest in the country other than the presidential race.
At Terrace Elementary School in Annandale, retiree Eddie Ward, 73, said he chose Democrats in the House and Senate races, voting for Kaine and Rep. Gerald E. Connolly.
“I like where Kaine is on women’s issues and on the environment,” Ward said. “I feel like he’s got the best interest of Virginia in mind, and I wasn’t sure about the other guy.”
Tine Beam, 66, a retired flight attendant, made a similar case in Leesburg, backing Kaine and other Democrats because she said Republicans posed a threat to women’s rights.
“I really felt that I needed to vote for my reproductive rights,” she said.
In Prince William County, David Williams, 50, voted for Allen, saying he especially appreciated Allen’s initiative as governor to ensure criminals served 85 percent of their terms.
“We saw the crime rate for Virginia go down after that,” he said.
Brenda Reid, a 53-year-old homemaker in Prince William, said she mostly liked Kaine because “he’s a supporter of the president.”
But it was a personal touch that Reid remembers most, when Kaine stopped by her Mount Zion Baptist Church. She said he was likable and a good man.
At Pinchbeck Elementary School in Richmond, Abigail Pegram, 30, cast her vote for Allen and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. A literature teacher at a Powhatan Christian school, Pegram said neither was fiscally conservative enough for her liking. She said that Allen, in particular, had hardly been a deficit hawk in the Senate. But she figured the Republicans would hold the line on spending better than Democrats.
“I wish there were different [choices], but I think they will take us in a new direction,” she said. “It’s a different direction, and I think we need that right now.”