Analysis: Kaine misstep on taxes?

Just when you thought that Tim Kaine had opened up a commanding lead in the Virginia U.S. Senate race …

“I would be open to a proposal that would have some minimum tax level for everyone.”

That was Kaine’s answer to a question from David Gregory at Thursday’s Senate debate on the topic of the week in American politics.

Mitt Romney’s comments writing off 47 percent of the voter population because they don’t pay federal income taxes may blow back on Kaine. That, anyway, is the hope of Republican Senate candidate George Allen, who needed a lifeline after a series of polls released this week put him in the rearview mirror in what had been a tight, tight race between the former governors.

Allen did his best to sidestep the issue. “I have my own point of view,” he answered Gregory, the host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” who served as debate moderator.

Gregory didn’t give Kaine an easy out. After Kaine called the Romney comment “divisive” and said the matter of standing in disagreement with the substance of what the GOP presidential nominee had said is “very straightforward,” Gregory pressed.

“Do you believe that everyone in Virginia should pay something in federal income tax?”

Kaine responded with the line about “a minimum tax level.” Allen seized upon the comment after the debate, using the opportunity to reinforce messages in TV ads from the Allen campaign and super PACs sympathetic to his cause that Kaine had proposed billions of dollars in tax increases as governor.

Whether or not the back-and-forth will resonate with voters is at question. The exposure of the debate for the vast majority of Virginia voters is through online news clips, meaning the biggest immediate impact is likely to be among the bloggers on the right and the left who pay close attention to the minutiae of what is said by the candidates and parse every word for the deepest possible meaning.

It is an opportunity, at the least, for Allen to close a recently opened gap in a race that just 24 hours ago had seemed to be Kaine’s to lose.

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