VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — Two campaigns that could determine not only who rules the White House but which party runs the U.S. Senate raced toward a climactic finish with candidates and their surrogates blanketing the state Sunday and volunteers braving a wintry wind to knock on doors.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was in Virginia's Hampton Roads region, heavy with military interests — a battleground region within a battleground state where the presidential and Senate races are a toss-up.
His Sunday night rally in Newport News, home to a major Navy shipbuilding plant, was an effort to keep the region from supporting President Barack Obama for the second election in a row.
Romney had two more rallies set Monday in Lynchburg and northern Virginia, scene of a loud Saturday night rally where Obama, former President Bill Clinton and musician Dave Matthews drew more than 25,000 people. Vice President Joe Biden also has two stops planned Monday in Sterling and Richmond, where another rocker, John Mellencamp, will join him and Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine.
The profusion of famous names left even the politically experienced amazed.
Republican Senate candidate George Allen had just addressed a few dozen volunteers at the party's Virginia Beach headquarters and departed when former Sen. Rick Santorum, a hero of social conservatives who lost the presidential nomination to Romney, ambled up unannounced.
"I've been out knocking doors all day with my son and I'm about to go out and do some more," Santorum said. The former Pennsylvania senator came to Virginia Beach because his son, a first-year student at The Citadel in South Carolina, had come north for a final weekend of campaign work.
Chuck Smith, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010 and is seeking a Virginia Beach City Council seat on Tuesday, was eager to leave the headquarters for some last-minute campaigning for the GOP ticket, but he paused when he saw Santorum.
"I don't know how to read this" election, said Smith, a longtime Hampton Roads GOP activist. "I will tell you that as we go through the neighborhoods, we don't see as many yard signs, so that could be an indication there is not as much interest, but from our point of view, it's a concerted effort to make sure we get the word out. That's how you win these elections."
On the campaign's penultimate evening, Allen sat in the party's victory headquarters in Newport News, the fatigue clear in his eyes and voice, just before he left to join Romney at the rally a few miles away.
The Senate campaign between Allen and Kaine, two former governors, has been hard and sometimes nasty. It has attracted more than $50 million from independent, outside organizations — most of it for highly negative advertising that make dubious or false claims. It's the most outside money spent in any Senate race in the nation, and about $30 million of it has gone to benefit Allen or oppose Kaine.
Most of the groups are nonprofit social welfare advocacy groups that don't identify the wealthy benefactors who demand anonymity in return for their millions of dollars in funding.
But even as bruising as this campaign has been, it has not been as personally difficult for Allen as the 2006 race when he lost re-election to his Senate seat to Democrat Jim Webb. That year, he battled George W. Bush's deeply unpopular Republican White House and a war going badly in Iraq, and his own blunders, particularly applying the term "macaca" to an American-born Webb campaign volunteer of Indian descent.
Kaine has attacked Allen as a bare-knuckled partisan, and Allen reciprocated by noting the two years Kaine served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, but the campaign steered clear of Allen's embarrassing moments from six years ago. It has been an afterthought at best in media coverage, not the drumbeat it was six years ago.
"Tim and I, we have very strong, different views, obviously on taxes, on energy policy, on the sequestration deal, the health care tax law," Allen said. "But for the most part, I think it's been on issues — what stands you take, what side are you on, and where would you vote."