Kaine vs. Allen would be epic slugfest

A matchup between Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine and former Sen. George Allen (R) would pit two political pros against each other, and catapult Virginia's Senate contest into one of the most competitive races of 2012.

Despite early statements he wouldn't run for the Senate, Kaine is set to return from a vacation early this week. Indications are he'll get in the race, possibly announcing as soon as the first half of the week.

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Allen has already declared his candidacy and is looking to complete a path to redemption after losing reelection in 2006, partially due to an embarrassing campaign trail misstep. But he must gain the nomination first. While he is the favorite, he faces a Tea Party-supported challenger in the GOP primary, and several other Republicans are considering a bid.

But national Republicans haven't wasted any time treating Kaine, President Obama's hand-picked chairman of the DNC, as the Democratic nominee.

Almost since the moment Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) announced he would retire after a single term, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) went on the attack against Kaine, characterizing him as Obama's top "cheerleader."

Indeed, Kaine's emphasized often that he serves as DNC chairman at the request of Obama. Kaine had initially said no to running for Senate, but received encouragement from the president, though his departure from the DNC could mean a shake-up affecting staff and resource decisions in Obama's own reelection effort.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said over the weekend that the chances that Kaine will run "are getting a lot better right now," and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) passed on the race, making way for the DNC chairman, whom Connolly said he hopes runs. The Washington Post reported that a decision is likely this week.

Kaine and Allen have a lot in common.

Both are former Virginia governors with extensive campaign experience. Allen ran the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) in the 2004 elections, and led the GOP to a four-seat pickup that padded its Senate majority. Kaine didn't fare as well in the 2010 elections as DNC chairman, but escaped most blame for the party's losses due to his extensive fundraising and work ethic on behalf of Democratic candidates.

Both would bring to the campaign a proven ability and the connections to raise money for the heavyweight slugfest, and both are media-friendly with the ability to stay on message.

A Kaine-Allen matchup has the makings of one of 2012's most competitive races. A poll last week suggested that the two would be locked in a dead heat if the election were held today. Moreover, Kaine's been a staunch defender of Obama in a state the president hopes to carry and will aggressively target in his reelection effort.

But Republicans have made gains in Virginia since Obama's 2008 election, when he bested Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by almost 235,000 votes. Republican Bob McDonnell cruised to victory in the 2009 gubernatorial election, and the GOP gained three House seats in 2010.

On a staff level, it could keep alive a friendly staffer rivalry from the past two years. Allen's principal spokesman has been Katie Wright, a deputy communications director of the Republican National Committee (RNC) the last two years, and Kaine could conceivably carry with him some staff from the DNC, the frequent sparring partner of the RNC.