Campaigns make final push in Virginia, Maryland

 

Democrat Timothy Kaine and Republican George Allen sprinted toward the end of a hard-fought Senate campaign in Virginia on Saturday, while coalitions for and against ballot measures that could dramatically affect the lives of Marylanders made their final pitches to voters.

In the contest critical to the balance of power in the Senate, Kaine dashed to Fredericksburg, Va. before appearing with President Barack Obama and the Dave Matthews Band in Bristow. Allen shook hands outside a college football game in Ashland, raced to a rally with vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan and finished the night in Newport News tailgating again.

In Maryland, glossy television campaigns over whether to allow a Las Vegas-style casino just outside the District of Columbia turned old-school with supporters touting union endorsements and opponents boarding a bus tour.

Meanwhile, at an emotionally charged campaign over whether to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, a lead opponent took his message of traditional family values to a wind-whipped prayer rally in downtown Baltimore. Proponents, as well as those backing another measure to allow some illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates, turned to door-knocking and phone calls.

Kaine began the day seeking to invigorate his ground troops at his Richmond campaign headquarters. Although he felt good about his chances, "a narrow lead is no lead at all in the days of super PACs," Kaine said, referencing polls that suggest he holds an advantage over Allen heading into Tuesday.

Kaine also took aim at television ads from pro-Allen groups.

"There are two styles of campaigning on display in this election," Kaine said. "One is about grass roots and person-to-person, and one is about big checks and negative ads."

Kaine delivered a similar message later in the morning at an Obama campaign office in Fredericksburg, adding an extra shot of optimism that the president will win the state, too. "We want to make sure he's elected with Virginia, not in spite of Virginia," Kaine said.

At a hangar at Richmond International Airport festooned in red, white and blue bunting, former senator and governor Allen played on Kaine's appearance with Obama.

"We need leaders in Washington who listen to the people," Allen said, echoing a theme the Republican has used on and off as the president's prospects in the state have appeared to ebb and flow. "Unlike my opponent, who wants to be President Obama's senator, I want to be Virginia's senator."

Ryan stressed Virginia's special role as a swing state in determining who controls the White House and the Senate. The Wisconsin congressman compared it to the part the commonwealth played in the nation's founding.

"Look, it came out of this state, the idea of America," Mitt Romney's running mate said. "You realize Virginia and just a handful of states hold the key to this."

The historical themes resonated with John Wallmeyer of Hanover County, Va., a retired auto mechanic and trucker decked out like Patrick Henry in a tricorn hat.

"He's the one who did 'Give me liberty or give me death,' " Wallmeyer explained to reporters on hand from China and Sweden. "Our liberty is at stake."

Back at the Obama campaign's Fredericksburg office, Mike Hubbard, a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps who lives in Stafford, was on hand to help Obama and Kaine in part because he believed they have the best strategy to cope with massive defense cuts scheduled to happen in January. "Shrinking [the defense budget] is okay, but doing it smartly is important," Hubbard said.

Across the Potomac in Upper Marlboro, Md., the chairman and chief executive of MGM Resorts continued to personally push for Question 7 — the expansion of casino gambling that could bring Las Vegas' biggest employer to National Harbor.

"I promise to build a world-class resort, if I'm allowed to, in Prince George's County," said Jim Murren, whose company has spent nearly $30 million advocating for Question 7. "We'll build something that you'll be proud of."

At the event, statewide associations of police officers and firefighters touted the plan, saying that it would produce revenue for schools and create jobs.

"This is a no-brainer for the citizens of Maryland," said John Rodney Bartlett, president of the Maryland Fraternal Order of Police.

On the other side, an anti-expansion campaign bus rolled into Silver Spring, Md., where Jim Pauli paused in a blustery parking lot to listen.The anti-Question 7 campaign has been funded almost entirely by $41 million in contributions from Penn National Gaming, which operates a West Virginia casino that could lose business.

"Question 7 is a bad deal for Maryland," Forest Heights Mayor Jackie Goodall said.

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot took the microphone and said that gambling interests had made lots of claims but that any revenue would go straight to the state's general fund and could be spent on all sorts of things. "I hope that people will see that these are false promises."

Pauli, 57, said he had planned to vote for Question 7 but changed his mind.

Those who oppose Question 4, Maryland's version of the Dream Act, also worked Saturday but were mostly struggling to make up for lost time after barely mounting a campaign against the tuition measure for immigrants. They coordinated on Facebook and through e-mail to distribute a first batch of printed yard signs and bumper stickers that read "No TAX $ for ILLEGALS - No on Question 4."

Still, they were far behind the measure's proponents, which have been backed by $1 million from labor unions.

"You heard about Question 4? No? It's good: $8,000 versus $26,000 for college," said Debra Jeje, 51, a Service Employees International Union member, slapping stickers on Prince George's early voters in Bowie. Jeje's pitch, which vaguely referenced in-state vs. out-of-state tuition rates at the University of Maryland, was honed over more than two weeks of campaigning she's done while SEIU, a major contributor, paid her salary.

At the prayer rally in downtown Baltimore, which attracted about 200 people, Derek McCoy, chairman of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, the lead group opposed to the state's same-sex marriage law, talked about strengthening traditional families at a time "when our culture has several significant challenges."

Both sides have focused on making sure their voters turn out.

On the other side, Keith Cohen, a retired French and comparative literature professor who lives in the District of Columbia, was working the phones and called out, "Yay! My first full conversation! And she said, 'We're all for marriage equality.' "

- - -

Laura Vozzella and Susan Svrluga contributed to this report.

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