In Virginia's Senate debate on Thursday, Democrat Tim Kaine said he would be open to a "minimum tax level" to ensure that all Americans pay some federal income tax.
Kaine repeatedly criticized Mitt Romney for suggesting, in the now-infamous videos posted by Mother Jones, that low-income Americans with zero income tax liability see themselves as "victims" and lack "personal responsibility."
Kaine, the Democratic former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, called the comments "divisive" and hit his Republican opponent, George Allen, for not condemning them more forcefully. "I don't think the question of whether you agree with governor Romney's comments is hard. I think it is very straightforward," Kaine said.
But when pressed by moderator David Gregory on whether all Americans should pay some taxes, Kaine offered that he would consider supporting a proposal to ensure that they do-while protesting that they already pay some taxes, if not income taxes. Here is that exchange between Kaine and Gregory:
GREGORY: Do you believe that everyone in Virginia should pay something in federal income tax?
KAINE: Well, everyone pays taxes! I mean, the statistics that have come out..
GREGORY: I'm asking about federal income taxes.
KAINE: I would be open to a proposal that would have some minimum tax level for everyone, but I do insist, many of the 47 percent that Gov. Romney was going after pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than he does.
Allen, meanwhile, became the latest down-ballot Republican to face questions about Mitt Romney and the "47 percent." His answer: Americans need jobs.
"I have my own point of view," the GOP Senate candidate said during his televised debate with Democrat Tim Kaine, when asked if he agreed with Romney's comments.
"My point of view is the people of America still believe in the American dream," Allen said, adding that it's the responsibility of public servants to ensure that "everyone has that equal opportunity to compete and pursue their dreams."
Republican officeholders and candidates have faced a wave of questions about Romney's comments, clandestinely recorded at a fundraiser in Florida, that large swaths of America see themselves as "victims" and lack "personal responsibility." NBC's David Gregory, the debate's moderator, asked Allen multiple times whether he shares Romney's view, and what he would do as senator to address the needs of that "47 percent."
Allen sought to avoid addressing Romney's specific quotes, instead striking a positive tone while mentioning welfare reforms during his tenure as governor and praising job growth as benefiting all Americans.
"The best indicator of what somebody will do in the future is what they've done in the past," Allen said. "My view is the best social program is a job."
Virginia's Senate race is one of the nation's more closely watched, and it mirrors the presidential race in the state, with both Kaine and Allen hewing closely to their party's national messages and platforms. A recent CBS/New York Times/Quinnipiac poll showed Kaine leading Allen 51 - 44 percent.
Allen returned to Romney's numbers game in his closing statement-sort of.
"I figure 99 percent oughtta be on our side-anybody who uses electricity, anybody who drives a car … anybody who pays taxes, anybody who wants a job," Allen said, citing higher utility and gas prices under President Obama and the Democratic Senate.