As President Obama headed to Virginia today he was walking into the battleground of battleground states. Not only is the state a toss-up in the presidential contest, but it is also home to one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country.
The most recent polls show the two former governors, Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine, neck-in-neck as they tee off for the seat vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Jim Webb.
"It will be a coattail race," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "They are both national figures. They are known universally in Virginia. There are very few people without an opinion."
Kaine is a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Allen has served in both the U.S. House and Senate. Before narrowly losing his Senate seat to Webb in 2006, Allen had been encouraged to consider a presidential run in 2008.
The Karl Rove-backed Crossroads GPS has funneled millions to support Allen and attack both Kaine and the president. But, Sabato argues, "money isn't going to decide this race."
While Allen has had more help from outside super PACs, Kaine has outraised him by more than $1 million this year, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. Both candidates had more than $2.5 million in their war chests at the end of May.
The presidential race, on the other hand, "will probably decide it," Sabato said, "unless it's a squeaker." Kaine, considered a moderate Democrat, is likely to draw 1 or 2 percent of his support from people who will pick Romney at the top of the ticket, Sabato said. But Allen, a Tea Party-backed conservative, is unlikely to draw much, if any, support from Obama-backers.
"It means that if President Obama wins Virginia, Tim Kaine is almost certain to be elected to the Senate," Sabato said. "If Romney wins and it's a squeaker, then it's very possible Tim Kaine can manage to win the Senate seat anyway. If Romney wins by a fair clip, then Allen will be pulled in."
The historically red state went blue for Obama in 2008, but polls show he is barely ahead of Romney in the swing sate. Obama's slight lead is good news for Kaine, but the lead is far from stable. Attacks from Allen and his supporting super PACs have tried to tie Kaine to some of Obama's more unpopular policies, such as health care, and have blamed him for the 8 percent unemployment rate.
But Kaine is by no means distancing himself from the president. The former Democratic National Committee chairman rode to Norfolk with Obama on Air Force One today and introduced the president at his first event.
And while Romney has not yet campaigned directly with Allen, the GOP candidate's son Josh Romney appeared with Allen after he secured the Republican nomination in June.
"Obama and Romney are going to be like house guests that won't leave," Sabato said. "It's going to be impossible for Kaine or Allen to campaign away from the presidential nominee of their party. The presidential candidates are just going to be omnipresent."