- Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 March 2011 00:00
- Published on Wednesday, 16 March 2011 00:00
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When George Allen first announced his intention to try and win back his old Senate seat, my reaction, as a long time George Allen watcher, was that it was his for the taking. Allen’s luck, campaign skill, in spite of his 2006 debacle, and sense of timing, just seemed like too much for the Democrats, particularly without Jim Webb, to overcome. However, during the past few weeks my opinion, so solid at first, has shifted. Maybe, the former Governor and Senator isn’t as invincible as I once thought.
While George Allen is still the odds-on favorite to be the GOP nominee, it’s not going to be as smooth a path as it
seemed at first. While the selection of the Republican nominee is still a ways off, he has at least one opponent. Jamie Radtke who used to work in his Senate office, is challenging her old boss. Radtke has actively courted the Tea Party movement, has strong social conservative credentials, and while not unkind to Allen in her comments, still paints him as much a cause of the problems in Washington as she does the Democrats.
She does have a point.
George Allen served six years in the Senate beginning with his election in 2000. During that time the Federal government ran up a deficit of $4 Billion. Even deducting the costs imposed by 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, that’s a lot of overspending and Allen cast few, if any, dissenting votes on the annual appropriations bills. Allen, however, in his new campaign, claims to be a born again fiscal conservative, but arguably, that’s only a recent conversion.
Though Allen will probably receive his party’s nomination, the task of getting it may prove harder than he thought. And who knows, lots of favorites fell by the wayside in 2010 and, given the dynamics of the Tea Party movement, anything could happen in 2012. Allen has his loyalists, but many in the Tea Party movement aren’t as enamored with the Allen legacy as he might want them to be. Many are new to politics, even new to Virginia, and might prove harder to persuade than Allen might have thought.
The legacy of the 2006 campaign is also more of a burden to George Allen than I originally thought. It was, given Allen’s knack for campaigning and messaging, an awful campaign. He barely did anything right. And what’s more, some of his mistakes and missteps are still following him. It been years, but the tarnish of his use of the word “Macaca” (which means, loosely translated, “monkey”) in describing an opposition cameraman of Indian descent has never gone away. That probably has less to do with his awful choice of words than the mealy-mouthed way he dealt with the issue when he was called on it. And then, there was the way he handled the news of Jewish heritage. Rather than offering a thoughtful statement about this part of his personal history, he made a rather crass statement about still eating ham sandwiches. It was a bizarre comment and not at all sensitive. Sadly, it was statements like this, along with other missteps, that became for many what defined George Allen.
Then there is Tim Kaine. To Allen, Kaine, a former Democratic Governor and currently Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, probably seems like the ideal liberal foil and the perfect opponent. But that may be a naive assessment of his likely Democratic opponent. Kaine, a hard core politico if ever there was one, isn’t getting interested in this race because he thinks he is going to lose. He, almost assuredly has done his own polling, his own testing of the waters, and sees an opportunity.
Virginia, in 2012, is going to receive a lot of attention. In 2008, the Commonwealth, for the first time since Lyndon Johnson, carried for the Democrats and at the same time elected Mark Warner to the Senate. 2009 and 2010, of course, were electoral disasters for the Democrats. George Allen is probably expecting that trend to continue.
But this may be assuming a very simple electoral calculus. Kaine is a popular former governor, he has surprisingly few negatives, and most people consider him, as one pundit put it, “a nice guy.” Given some of the negatives Allen has racked up, that’s not a bad starting point for Kaine. Also, in 2012 Barack Obama will be at the head of the ticket. While, at the moment, it’s hard to see Obama carrying Virginia again, some of the dynamics of that campaign are likely to favor Kaine. Kaine will polish up his moderate image and work on the Northern Virginia suburbs. In 2006 Allen lost badly in Northern Virginia. At the same time Kaine will benefit from what will likely be an overwhelming turnout from African American voters.
The 2012 Senate election is still 19 months away, but in fact, the campaign has already started. Allen may be a strong candidate, but he is starting from a weaker position, and with more challenges, than probably even he expected.