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Senate race? What Senate race? Why Virginians pay a big race little heed.

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Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times/AP

(Read caption) Signage in support of US Senate candidates Tim Kaine and George Allen outside of Squires Student Center, the site of a live televised debate on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va., Thursday.

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Despite an avalanche of advertisements and the two Senate candidates' long legacies in Virginia politics, Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine have an unexpected challenge in their tight race: getting voters to pay attention to them.

“I am shocked, as I’m going out and ringing [on] doors [on behalf of GOP candidates], people don’t know the Senate candidates, despite their pedigree,” says former Rep. Tom Davis (R), who represented a district abutting Washington, D.C., for a dozen years until 2008.

The Senate rivals have now debated in public five times, most recently Thursday night. Millions have been spent by their campaigns to reach voters. Yet local politicos report that many Virginians seem to have not the foggiest idea what is going on in one of 2012’s marquee Senate races.

Susan Allen, campaigning for her husband, recently wrangled a light moment out of voter ignorance. She had run through her stump speech and was ready for questions from a handful of employees at a small medical company in Mt. Jackson, Va., a town in the commonwealth’s Shenandoah Valley.

The first questioner asked about the main differences between her husband, who has served the state as both a governor and a US senator, and his opponent, also an ex-governor.

As Mrs. Allen began her explanation, the questioner broke in again. “What’s his name, by the way?” he said, referring to Mr. Allen’s opponent.

“Tim Kaine,” she whispered, to a laugh.

What gives? There are a couple of theories.


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