By Scott Harrison and Micah Fleet
In a key race for Democratic control of the U.S. Senate, Virginia was called at the 11th hour.
Democrat Tim Kaine had 50.78 percent and Republican George F. Allen 49.03 percent with 88 percent of precincts counted when AP reported that Allen conceded the open seat to Kaine.
Lines at the polls in some populous parts of the state were so long that voting hours were extended for citizens waiting at the 7 p.m. closing time.
Locally in the race, Lexington went with Kaine with 58.62 percent of the vote while Rockbridge County and Buena Vista went to Allen with 59 percent and 60.66 percent respectively.
Allen and Kaine, both former governors of Virginia, ran a race that saw more than $50 million spent by groups other than the two campaigns.
Nearly $80 million was spent overall, as the two competed for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Jim Webb. Allen had held the seat until narrowly losing it to Webb 2006. A Republican win was seen as essential for the party to have a chance of reclaiming a majority in the Senate.
Democrats, on the other hand, felt they needed the seat to maintain their slight majority there.
The race became the focus of a furious effort by super political action committees and other outside groups. According to Federal Election Commission data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, Kaine raised more than $16.7 million for the campaign, while Allen raised nearly $11.9 million. But those figures were dwarfed by the more than $50 million spent by the super PACs and others.
Allen benefited more from the outside spending. Pro-Allen and anti-Kaine groups spent nearly $30 million, compared to about $20 million spent by pro-Kaine and anti-Allen groups, according the Center for Responsive Politics.
Allen, 60, is a graduate of the University of Virginia and its law school. He served in Virginia’s House of Delegates representing the Charlottesville area and was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives before becoming Virginia’s governor in 1994. He served one term in the U.S. Senate from 2001 to 2007.
Kaine, 54, a native of Minnesota, moved to Richmond after graduating from Harvard Law School. He was mayor of Richmond and the state’s lieutenant governor before serving as governor from 2006 to 2010. He served as chair of the Democratic National Committee from 2009-2011. His political pedigree, if not his philosophy, crosses party lines. His father-in-law, Linwood Holton, a graduate of Washington and Lee University, was the first Republican governor of Virginia since Reconstruction when he was elected in 1970.
Allen spent much of the campaign trying to tie Kaine to President Obama’s policies. Kaine has proposed allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire on households earning $500,000, a more conservative approach than the President’s target of $250,000. In order to reduce the nation’s deficit, Kaine supports new tax revenues only if they come with budget cuts.
Allen too called for tax reform, but his plan would have continue the Bush tax cuts across the board, and also lowered the nation’s corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. On his website, Allen said a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget must be included in any agreement to raise the federal debt ceiling.
In a debate between the candidates in Hot Springs, Allen criticized the spending of the Democrats in Congress over the past few years.
“When I left the Senate,” he said, “we were on a trajectory toward a balanced budget.”
Kaine attacked that assertion repeatedly, criticizing Allen for casting votes in the Senate that allowed a budget surplus to turn into a deficit.
The two also diverged over Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act.
Allen wants to repeal the law as part of his broad support for federal spending cuts. Kaine supports the new health care law. On his website, Kaine called the bill “the first step to put patients in charge of their health care decisions and put the brakes on runaway health care costs that were crippling patients and businesses.”
But the two candidates did find common ground on energy use. Both favored allowing Virginia to expand offshore oil drilling. Allen has been especially critical of the Obama administration, saying it prevented drilling.