2012 ELECTION

What the GOP primary means in Virginia

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Tim Kaine has the luxury of crisscrossing Virginia for the next two months with the Democratic nomination for November's U.S. Senate race in the bank - no bothersome primary to fret.

He's free to pound away on George Allen, the Republican frontrunner, from the left while a pack of conservative Republicans also seeking the GOP nomination tear at Allen from the right.

Already at a cash disadvantage to Kaine, Allen will have to dig into his campaign treasury to battle Delegate Bob Marshall, tea party chieftain Jamie Radtke and Chesapeake preacher E.W. Jackson.

So for Kaine, a former governor with Democratic friends in the highest places and a bye right into the fall election, it's all good, right? Not necessarily.

Republicans will get from their intramural feud some things money can't buy. They get the media spotlight to themselves for weeks. They focus and spread their message, energize and organize their power. And they come away from the June primary with a fresh list of Republican voters.

"We get to excite our voter base, stir them up, make them realize what a critical moment this is for them, and all Kaine gets to do is sit there and watch," said Jackson, the only black candidate in the race to succeed Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, who is not running for a second term.

"It gives us an opportunity, I think, to put our team together. It gets our team organized earlier and and ready for the main opponent - Tim Kaine and the Washington liberals," Allen, namesake son of the Washington Redskins' Hall of Fame coach, said, speaking as usual in football metaphors and describing the GOP nomination battle as "an intrasquad scrimmage."

Kaine, who traveled across Virginia last week with Democratic Sen. Mark R. Warner promoting his new campaign plan for energizing the sluggish economy, has to somehow stay relevant through mid-June, said University of Virginia political science professor Larry J. Sabato.

"He has to find ways to re-introduce himself constantly so that he can wedge into the story. People cover the current contest, and the current contest is the Republican primary," Sabato said.

The candidates also get a chance to distinguish themselves from the others with three debates beginning April 28 sponsored by the Republican Party of Virginia, and Allen - clearly the man to beat - will be the common target of his hungry, underdog primary rivals.

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