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Tim Kaine, George Allen Use Virginia Races as 2012 Primer

George Allen (R) and Tim Kaine (D) are building for the future as they hit the trail hard on behalf of state legislative candidates running in Virginia’s November elections.

With Tuesday’s primaries now completed, the former governors are hoping to not only help their respective parties control the state Senate — the House of Delegates is not realistically in play — but are also laying the groundwork for their own 2012 matchup, which will be among the deciding races for the majority in the U.S. Senate.

Strategists in the state from both parties said the two, as well as President Barack Obama’s campaign, would be wise to take this opportunity as a learning experience for next year.

“The places where the races are going to be most competitive this year are probably the places where it’s going to be most competitive in 2012,” one Democratic strategist said. “It’s a good opportunity to begin to build organizations and see how some messaging and technology plays in some of these exurban areas that are going to be so critical to 2012.”

Insiders expect competitive races in the Hampton Roads region, Southwestern coal country, and the suburban and exurban areas of Northern Virginia, including Prince William and Loudoun counties. The swing voters there have played a major role in deciding statewide elections in recent years, and Democrats will mostly be playing defense.

Democrats hold 22 of the state’s 40 Senate seats, and Republicans have candidates running in about 80 percent of the Democratic districts. Although Democrats are looking to pick up a couple of Republican seats, their top priority is holding the seats gained when they won the majority in 2007.

Kaine, who’s been praised for strengthening the state Democratic Party during his recent tenure in the governor’s mansion, has a stake in helping Democrats hold the state Senate. It’s the party’s last line of defense against a unified General Assembly for Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, whose stature in the GOP continues to rise as the newly minted chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

“Governor Kaine is committed to supporting candidates who share his vision for Virginia in this November’s elections,” Kaine spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said.

Kaine, who entered the Senate race three months after Allen, has attended a mixture of events including fundraisers, office openings and canvass kickoffs on behalf of at least 15 state House and Senate candidates, with many more on the way now that the primaries are over.

Kaine endorsed Alfonso Lopez in a contested Democratic primary for an open Northern Virginia House of Delegates seat. Lopez won.

For Allen, helping his fellow Republicans offers him a chance to ingratiate himself with rank-and-file Republicans again after losing his 2006 Senate re-election bid. He also faces a primary against Jamie Radtke and hopes to strengthen his brand with the tea party faction of the GOP.

Allen backed tea party candidate Tito Munoz (nicknamed “Tito the Builder” by Sarah Palin in 2008) over ousted state party Chairman Jeff Frederick in one Northern Virginia exurban district. Frederick, 35, easily won and will attempt to unseat Democratic state Sen. Toddy Puller, 66, in what will be one of many closely watched races this fall.

In 2003, Frederick became the youngest delegate ever elected to the state House. After three terms, he opted against re-election when he won the state chairmanship but was booted after a short tenure.

Allen spokesman Bill Riggs said the former Senator and his wife, Susan, have so far headlined “more than 50 fundraisers, campaign kickoffs and Republican rallies all across Virginia,” including candidates for local office. For Allen himself, that includes appearances with 20 state legislative candidates.

“This year’s elections will have an enormous impact on Virginia’s pro-growth agenda, and George and Susan Allen will continue to hit the campaign trail right through Election Day,” Riggs said.

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