Thu04172014

Last updateTue, 04 Nov 2014 9pm

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Virginia is not a place for second chances

Virginia isn’t known for giving its candidates for high office a second chance. This seems to be a uniquely Virginia tradition. Other states, whether in Ohio, California or New York have had many successful statewide office holders who ran, then lost, but came back to win another day. In other words, comebacks aren’t uncommon. But, that rarely happens in the Commonwealth. Once a candidate has lost a bid for a statewide office comebacks are rare. 

The only candidate to make a true comeback, and this was during a time of a major realignment in Virginia politics, was Linwood Holton. A Republican, Holton ran in 1965 and lost, but won in 1969. That’s not to say that a few others haven’t tried. 

Former Lieutenant Governor Henry Howell ran for governor three times. He lost each time. In 1981 former Attorney General Marshall Coleman lost to Democrat Chuck Robb and in 1989 almost managed a comeback when he lost to Douglas Wilder. It was one of the closest elections in Virginia history, but alas, he still lost. 

In 1981 Republican Wyatt Durrette lost to Gerald Baliles for Attorney General and then lost to him again for Governor in 1985. 

More recently, following an identical pattern, State Senator Creigh Deeds lost to Bob McDonnell for Attorney General in 2005 and went on to lose to him for Governor in 2009. 

Now, there is George Allen. And it looks like he may be headed for the same fate as all of the others who have attempted a comeback in the seemingly unforgiving world of Virginia politics.

George Allen’s comeback, however, is different. He is the first statewide officeholder in more than a hundred years, who having been defeated in a reelection bid, has decided to run again. What’s more, he has a long history in Virginia politics, serving as a delegate, a congressman, governor, and senator. 

It’s one of the most diverse political biographies in the state’s history. But in his campaign to recapture his old senate seat, which he lost to retiring Senator Jim Webb in 2006, he is having troubles. 

The Republicans hoped that George Allen would be helped by a Romney victory in Virginia. However, two things are making this difficult. First, a Romney win, while still a strong possibility in the Old Dominion, isn’t the certainty the GOP had hoped for six months ago. 

And second, Virginians, or at least enough of them to make a difference, have a tendency to split their tickets and may be willing to vote for Romney as well as Allen’s opponent, Tim Kaine. 

Needless to say, almost none of Barack Obama’s supporters are likely to vote for Allen. None of this is encouraging news to the Allen campaign, and recent polls, many of which consider the election a toss-up in the Presidential race, also give the Democrat, Tim Kaine, a strong edge.

Allen is trying, but so far, hasn’t managed to find a specific attack, or argument, that’s resonated with voters. “Unfocused” may be one of the best words to describe the Republican’s campaign. He has tried to position himself as the candidate best prepared to create jobs with a strong pro-business, small government campaign. It’s an approach that usually has some traction in Virginia, but this year, it hasn’t translated into a successful theme. 

His attacks on Kaine, as well as those of the political action committees opposing Kaine have covered the gamut. Kaine has been portrayed as opposed to off-shore drilling, anti-coal, anti-education, a supporter of sequestration (part of the fiscal cliff the Congress and the President will have to deal with) and oh yes, have accused him of being an extravagant spender while he was Governor. 

Unfortunately for Allen, none of these arguments was well crafted, well presented, or that well received. Some, because they were so loosely based on the facts, or so poorly argued, right down to the bad graphics in the ad, at best had no impact at all, and may, just as likely, have helped Kaine more than hurt him. 

Kaine on the other hand seems to understand the dynamics of this election better than Allen. If Kaine is to win he needs, and this is almost a mantra for statewide Democrats, to win big in Northern Virginia, win the outer suburbs (specifically Prince William and Loudoun counties), and draw even, or close to it, in the Norfolk and Newport News area. To do this the former Governor seems to understand that one of his keys to victory is the support of women voters. With this clearly in mind, his ads in Northern Virginia have focused on his pro-choice stand and his opponent’s opposition, while in the Senate, to the Family Leave Act. Kaine is extremely articulate in arguing this point. In fact, one of his ads, making these very points, is nothing more than a statement he made during the candidate debates. But it’s a highly effective.

George Allen could still win this election, but time is growing short, and Kaine seems to have amassed a resilient lead. A larger than expected Romney coattail effect for Allen, if Romney wins Virginia, which by no means is a given, or a highly effective last minute ad campaign, could tilt the balance. But so far, George Allen’s comeback looks like it will go the same route as all the others who have tried before. 

David Kerr can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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