RICHMOND, Va. -- U.S. Senate candidates George Allen and Timothy M. Kaine will make their closing arguments tonight in Blacksburg at the third and final debate in the former governors' closely contested race.
In a matchup that has in large part been overshadowed by a presidential contest thus far, Kaine and Allen have run neck and neck for more than a year and a half. A handful of recent polls showed Kaine having built up a narrow edge, but others suggest the race remains deadlocked.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released last week had Kaine at 47 percent to Allen's 46 percent -- a statistical tie -- while a Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News survey released the same day showed Kaine up 51 percent to 44 percent.
Tonight's debate, sponsored by WSLS-TV and Virginia Tech, will mark the fifth time the candidates have clashed in the high-stakes contest to succeed retiring Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va.
But to date, none of the face-offs has produced a game-changing moment, or even a clear winner, said Robert E. Denton Jr. head of the Department of Communications at Virginia Tech and one of tonight's moderators.
"I think both candidates have been good about showing their differences on policies and approaches, (and) I think they have been fairly successful in trying to define the other person," Denton said.
"But in terms of just the debate format, I think that Governor Kaine appears to be more comfortable. I think that (he) can deliver a litany of attacks in a way that doesn't seem like he's attacking."
The key for both candidates tonight, Denton said, would be avoiding gaffes and energizing the candidates' respective bases. He suggested both would do well to "quit talking about the independents and talk to the key constituents."
Being declared the winner by the media, Denton added, would provide a tremendous advantage for either candidate with less than 20 days to go, but would be a tricky feat without some high-risk acrobatics.
"And I'd be surprised to see any real risk-taking because it is so close," Denton said.
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