Virginia candidates for Senate George Allen (R) and Tim Kaine (D) butted heads Thursday in a debate at the Capitol One Bank headquarters in McLean, Va.
The two clashed repeatedly over taxes, gay marriage and how the federal government should handle the sequestration. The debate, which was the first of three the candidates will participate in during the next six weeks, began with a discussion of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's comments dismissing 47 percent of the American public because they don't pay taxes. Event moderator David Gregory pressed Allen, who seemed to distance himself from the controversial comments.
Do you think nearly half the country see themselves as victims because they are too dependent?
"No, I don't. I see people. I .. I ... look very positively at the people of Virginia and America."
So you would part ways with Governor Romney on this point?
"I have my own point of view. And my point of view is that the people of America still believe in the American dream."
Kaine attacked Romney's comments as deeply offensive.
"They were divisive comments, and we are a state that's seen over our history too much divisive politics," says Kaine. "One of the things I'm proud about in this commonwealth is I really see in the last generation a tremendous effort to turn our back on the divisive politics of our past."
On taxes, Allen supported a flat tax while Kaine espoused a plan to let the Bush tax cuts expire for those who make more than $500,000 a year.
In a discussion of social issues, Allen supported traditional marriage between one woman and one man, while Kaine advocated letting state legislators to decide whether or not to support gay marriage or civil unions.
In one of the more emotional moments, Allen apologized for using a racial slur in his previous campaign, which he lost to Democrat Jim Webb.
"Losing is a humbling experience. I didn't like losing. You learn sometimes much more from losing than you do from winning," Allen said. "One of the things that my father always taught me and anybody who is in sports would say that when you get knocked down you get back up."
Allen is attempting to make a comeback, but Kaine described Allen as a divisive figure during the debate.
"George, you famously said when you were governor that you enjoyed knocking Democrats' soft teeth down their whiny throats. And you didn't say it with a smile either," Kaine said. "Some of it may be sports or competitive rhetoric. But that's not what it's going to take to fix Washington."
After the debate, Allen said Kaine's solution to every problem was raising taxes. And Kaine said Allen's plan to deal with sequestration as lacking detail.
The race has been deadlocked
for months, although recent polls show movement in the race. A Washington Post poll
released earlier this week shows Kaine eight points ahead, and a Quinnipiac University poll shows Kaine seven points ahead of Allen.