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U.S. Senate candidates--and former Virginia governors--George Allen and Tim Kaine debate for a fourth time.
STEVE HELBER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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BY CHELYEN DAVIS
RICHMOND--Virginia's Senate candidates again clashed on federal budget cuts, entitlement programs and women's health issues in their only widely broadcast debate of this campaign.
The debate, held Monday at a PBS station in Richmond, was largely polite, with a silent audience and both candidates reiterating previously announced positions on the campaign's major issues. In a nod to last week's presidential debate, Democrat Tim Kaine pledged his support for public broadcasting in his opening statement.
"I pledge not to fire Big Bird and not to defund public broadcasting," Kaine said.
Republican George Allen was more forceful than he has been previously in denouncing Kaine's decision to accept the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee during his last year as governor.
"It's really the great unanswered question in this campaign: How does a governor decide to take on a second job that sends him all over the country" as a recession is taking hold in his state, Allen asked. "If Tim had given the governorship his full attention he might have avoided some mistakes."
Kaine responded that Allen himself spent two years as chairman of the National Senatorial Campaign Committee as governor, and that former Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore was Republican National Committee chairman in his own last year as Virginia governor.
One issue new to the campaign was raised by moderator Bob Holsworth, who asked both candidates what they think of an upcoming Supreme Court case that could overturn affirmative action at colleges and other public bodies.
But both men essentially had the same position, agreeing that they favor allowing colleges to keep programs that help increase diversity. Given that the debate was co-sponsored by AARP, it's not surprising that the candidates got several questions on Social Security and Medicare.
Allen said he favors gradually raising the eligibility age for people who are under 50 now, both for Social Security and Medicare, and applying additional means testing for wealthy beneficiaries. He said he does not want to change either program for current beneficiaries.
Kaine said he would allow the payroll tax cap to adjust upward over time, rather than changing the retirement age. He accused Allen of supporting privatization of Social Security; Allen has said in the past he doesn't want total privatization, but could support private-sector options.
"I will fight efforts to privatize Social Security to my last breath," Kaine said.