(CNN) - At a luxury resort where visitors usually come for rest and relaxation, former Virginia governors George Allen and Tim Kaine, who hope to represent the Commonwealth in the U.S. Senate, squared off Saturday morning in a debate moderated by CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley.
Both candidates noted Friday's mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado in their opening remarks. Republican Allen praised Democrat Kaine’s handling of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre while he was governor.
Both candidates agreed with the need to perform background checks on people making purchases at gun shows, while Allen added, "the solution is not to take away the rights of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves or their families."
Crowley anchors CNN's "State of the Union," which will air highlights of the debate Sunday at 9 a.m. ET on CNN’s "State of the Union."
While this was a Senate debate, presidential politics played a major part because of Virginia's importance as a hotly contested battleground state in the race between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Allen, who is campaigning to regain the Senate seat he lost in 2006, made pointed attempts to link Kaine to Obama, calling Kaine "the hand-picked chairman of the Democratic National Committee by President Obama, and he's, in effect, the hand-packed senator and recruited to run for the Senate." Kaine responded angrily, calling the remark "completely out of line."
Kaine highlighted his disagreements with Obama on the mission to Libya and on taxes, where he supports allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire on income over $500,000, double the amount called for by Obama.
He also found common ground on with Romney on health care reform that the presidential candidate enacted while he was governor of Massachusetts and which some have said is similar to Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
“I think Romneycare's OK. So, I'll agree with a Republican," Kaine said, drawing laughs from the audience.
On the health care reform law, Allen said, "I want to be the deciding vote to repeal this healthcare tax law. Tim Kaine thinks it's a great achievement."
The two clashed over the scheduled $500 billion in defense cuts that will come as a result of last year's standoff over raising the nation's debt ceiling. Allen argued that the agreement Kaine supported would disproportionally harm Virginia because of the state's large military presence.
Kaine noted that Allen's opposition contrasted with the support of Virginia's Republican Governor Bob McDonnell and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia congressman. He also argued that Allen was involved in creating the debt problem.
"When you were in the Senate, you didn't do any cuts. You ratcheted up federal spending, you increased the deficit, you voted to increase your own pay. You helped turn massive surpluses into massive deficits," Kaine said.
Allen responded that unlike Kaine, McDonnell and Cantor have proposed alternatives to the “draconian” defense cuts, adding that “national defense should never be used as a bargaining tool to raise taxes.”