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BY CHELYEN DAVIS
The Tim Kaine-George Allen matchup is one of the hottest Senate races this year, a tight race in a critical battleground presidential state that could determine which party controls the Senate.
Both candidates have been running for well over a year, and, in all that time, polls consistently show the race in a dead heat.
Now Election Day is two months away, and both candidates are trying to move the numbers and lure undecided voters.
Many of those undecideds are newer Virginians, those who never voted for either Kaine or Allen, said University of Mary Washington political analyst Stephen Farnsworth.
"Longtime Virginia residents are not going to be particularly persuadable in this election. They've had the opportunity to reach their own conclusions about Allen and Kaine over the years," Farnsworth said. "Both Allen and Kaine were relatively successful governors, they're relatively well-known, they're people who voters have had a chance to think about and evaluate over the years."
Newer Virginians, Farnsworth said, are "far more significant" to each campaign trying to find votes, and those voters are also more likely to look at the presidential race and let their choice there influence their Senate vote.
Both Kaine and Allen say they expect the presidential race to bleed over into their own race.
"I think it's clearly going to have an effect on my candidacy and George's," Kaine said. "But people know me and George pretty well."
Allen said polling indicates he's running about 2 to 3 percent ahead of Romney in Virginia.
But he thinks the race will come down to 10,000 or so votes.
The tightness of the race explains why voters are seeing so many ads for the race, so early.
Both Kaine and Allen went up with ads this summer--Allen has recently delayed a new round of ads until later this month. Thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling that allows corporations to funnel money into political ads, voters are seeing even more ads from third-party interest groups bashing the candidates.
Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS and American Crossroads is the biggest spender.
Kaine has denounced the third-party ads and tried to pressure Allen into doing the same.
Kaine calls them "secret money ads" and says he'd support reforming the laws that allow them.
They're why his own ads have mostly been positive, Kaine said.
"We're getting outspent 3-to-1 by these outside groups. It's a concern, but my gut told me when they started running negative ads against me that Virginians wouldn't like all negative [ads] and they wouldn't like it so soon."
But Allen says the ads, and spending, are free speech.
"I'm one who's for freedom of expression and the First Amendment, would not want to restrict it," Allen said. "I think the reform that's needed in Washington and the reason some of this happens the way it is in federal elections is there's all these restraints and restrictions on contributions to candidates. So, those who want to express themselves find other ways to express their views."
Allen said he'd like to see the federal campaign contribution system work like Virginia's--no limits, full disclosure.
Then, he said, all those millions of third-party dollars could go directly to candidates, and candidates could decide how to direct their own advertising.
The way the federal law is now, Allen said, third-party ads are negative by force, because those running them can't advocate in favor of a particular candidate.
"By law they have to be negative because they cannot advocate for the election of someone, so all they can do is run these negative ads," Allen said.
Farnsworth said he has been struck by "how quickly it became incredibly nasty."
Normally, he said, candidates run positive ads to define themselves in the summer, and wait until around October to put out the negative attack ads on their opponent.
Not so this year.
"What you see here is a race that in July was as nasty as a race usually is in October," Farnsworth said.
The reason hearkens back to those incredibly tight poll numbers. Both candidates need to move the ball.
"People do things because they have a positive return," Farnsworth said. "If attack ads didn't work, if they didn't move the public, we wouldn't see attack ads."
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028