ASHBURN, Va. - Entering the final month of the campaign, Virginia's U.S. Senate candidates are turning their attention to the voters most likely to show up on Election Day: seniors.
Fresh off a debate Monday that focused on entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, Republican George Allen visited a Northern Virginia retirement community Tuesday promising to protect both programs for both current beneficiaries and their grandchildren. Democrat Tim Kaine will address the same voting bloc Wednesday in Fairfax.
Kaine and Allen couldn't be further apart on how to preserve the two programs in an era of deficit reduction and spending cuts. And both have focused attention on the impact President Obama's health care reforms will have on Medicare. Allen warned seniors Tuesday that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will cut more than $700 billion from Medicare over 10 years.
"There's a lot of things that are wrong with it, for jobs, for quality of care, for access to doctors who take Medicare patients," Allen said of the health care plan he pledged to repeal.
Kaine defended Obama's Medicare changes, saying they will create savings that will improve coverage for seniors.
"George's plan in repealing the Affordable Care Act would take the benefit back from seniors and give it back to insurance companies," Kaine said during their debate.
Allen on Tuesday publicly defended his votes in the Senate to create a prescription drug program known as Medicare Part D. Democrats -- including Kaine -- and conservative Republicans have vilified the prescription program as an unfunded expansion of government. But Allen called it "very beneficial to a lot of seniors."
"It's hard to know who's right," said Harriet Hunt, a lifelong Republican who watched Allen at Ashby Ponds Retirement Community in Ashburn. "I don't even know how Obamacare has changed the law because nothing has been implemented. It's not a bad idea to require everyone to buy some insurance."
Even those who like Allen aren't convinced that his plan to replace the Obama reforms with market-friendly programs like health savings accounts would help people with pre-existing conditions, something the Obama plan does do.
"It would be nice to get people saving when they're young," said Rosemary Walker. "But with the cost of gas and food and starting a family and it being hard to find a job, how do you save?"
Allen was peppered with questions from both Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday. His audience, by turns, applauded and argued. When one quizzed Allen on anti-abortion legislation, the very kind of issue Allen said should take a back seat to the economy, others rolled their eyes.
"One person always has to bring up the piddling issues to take up time," said La Von Warner. "There are more important things to talk about."