Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate, announced yesterday in Norfolk, not only enlivened the Presidential campaign, it generated a spark in the already-sizzling contest between Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Jim Webb.
Observers, like the Washington Post’s Ben Pershing, noted that Allen has been noncommittal about Ryan’s proposals to remake Medicare into a voucher system and suggested Romney’s choice could prove problematic for Allen, whose tightly-contested race with Kaine has been too close to call for months.
Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch opined that in Virginia, the Ryan pick could be accompanied by peril.
“Ryan’s proposed makeover of Medicare rattled seniors and some Republicans. George Allen, the Senate nominee, still won’t say how he’d vote on the plan,” Schapiro wrote.
But Allen was having none of that yesterday.
“Today I was out on the road with Governor Mitt Romney and Congressman Paul Ryan,” Allen said in a posting on his Web site late Saturday. “Virginians are fired up for this election. We went to Norfolk, Ashland and Manassas where we are bringing our positive vision for a better future. A better future where we can unleash Virginiaâ€™s energy resources from the coalfields to our coast. A better future where the men and women of our military donâ€™t face $500 billion in defense cuts. A better future where hard-working Virginians donâ€™t face 200,000 lost jobs under Washingtonâ€™s failed deal.”
When pressed on Ryan’s Medicare proposals, Allen has said the emphasis should be on the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare, rather than on Ryan’s plan, which is unlikely to be enacted in its present form.
“I think it makes the choice in this election very clear because the Ryan plan pushes Medicare costs onto the shoulders of seniors and the other cuts that it makes in education and other key items to preserve these tax breaks for the top earners will devastate our economy,” Kaine said in a press release. “George Allen has praised the Ryan budget and he also voted to partially privatize Social Security when he was in the Senate, which is very much in the Ryan philosophy. It will really sharpen the choices for people come November.”
Allen accused Kaine of using the threat of huge budget cuts to push for tax increases.
“[S]ome see this looming devastation as an opportunity to push for tax hikes. Let me be clear: the men and women serving in our Armed Forces should neveer be used as a political bargaining tool to raise taxes on job-creating small business owners. These devastating cuts to our military and jobs must be stopped with true leadership.”
Kaine said focused investments could provide an economic boost faster than tax cuts:
“The more you make focused investments in education and workforce development, the more competitive you make the economy in the long term. That’s why something like the Ryan plan that cuts so much out of spending on the education side is so dangerous. You’ve got to balance the budget the right way, not the wrong way. One strategy, which is the Ryan strategy and George Allen’s, is to balance the budget all through cuts. I think that would devastate the economy. So you have to make cuts, and I’ve made plenty, but you also have to let the Bush tax cuts expire at the top levels so you can have some revenue too.”
For months, the Allen campaign has emphasized the close ties between Kaine, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and President Obama. The Kaine campaign is now returning the favor, seeking to tie Allen to the more unpopular aspects of Rep. Ryan’s budget proposals.
â€œBy standing with Paul Ryan today, George Allen continues to embrace a plan that would force hundreds of thousands of Virginia seniors to pay nearly $6,000 more each year in health care. Budgets are about priorities and George Allenâ€™s approach would gut Medicare resources for millions of American seniors, devastate investments for education and infrastructure that grow our economy, while defending irresponsible tax breaks for the wealthiest that ballooned our deficit and drove up our debt,â€ said Kaine for Virginia Communications Director Brandi Hoffine.
â€œInstead of taking a balanced approach to fixing the fiscal challenges he helped create, George Allen continues to place the burden of deficit reduction on the backs of Virginiaâ€™s middle class families, students, and seniors. These priorities would be damaging to economic growth and Virginians know we canâ€™t afford them,â€ Hoffine said.
Not your daddy’s Virginia
Virginia is simply not what it used to be. In fast-growing Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, a more diverse population — made up largely of government employees, contractors and military personnel — doesn’t hold the strong anti-government views still common in the state’s more rural precincts.
This creates a minefield for candidates trying to appeal to traditional Virginia voters without alienating the much harder-to-read residents in what some have called the urban crescent — the thin slice of Eastern Virginia that stretches from Arlington and Fairfax to Hampton Roads. While not as unilaterally liberal as denizens of San Francisco or Mitt Romney’s Boston, the newer Virginians tend to not only be more diverse but to hold more diverse views. Military personnel are often socially conservative but tend to favor a strong central government, while many civilian federal employees in Northern Virginia tend to be more traditionally liberal, favoring programs aimed at fostering education, healthcare and social welfare.
That it is a tricky path to navigate was proven by Gov. Bob McDonnell, who made no secret of his availability for the Vice Presidential spot on the Romney ticket. But McDonnell’s clumsy embrace of mandatory ultrasound tests for women seeking an abortion and his refusal to renew anti-discrimination provisions for gay state employees, among other gaffes that made Virginia a national laughingstock, dashed his VP hopes.
McDonnell got the dreaded phone call from Romney Friday, telling him he shouldn’t quit his day job, Schapiro reported. Whether McDonnell was ever seriously considered for a slot on the ticket is questionable but he did snag a small door prize, being named GOP platform chairman.