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Can Allen still get the GOP nomination?

George Allen is an icon in the Virginia Republican Party.  He was that scrappy legislator who made the Democratic Majority in the House of Delegates so uncomfortable, and then, after a brief stay in the Congress (brief because his old Democratic colleagues redistricted him out of his seat), he was that come from behind long shot who managed to defeat the anointed successor to the three term Democratic dynasty in Richmond, Mary Sue Terry.  And then, he was the Governor, who did something remarkable.  He managed to carry out several of his most high

profile campaign promises.  He said he would abolish parole, and working with a Democratic dominated General Assembly, he did just that. He promised to establish standards for academic achievement and created the standards of learning.  He also promised to cut state spending and he did.
In 2000, knocking off incumbent Chuck Robb, he won a seat.  Unfortunately for Allen, in 2006 he managed to lose it to a newcomer to politics, Jim Webb.  But Republicans, even after having suffered through his disastrous campaign in 2006 still have a soft spot for their cowboy-boot-wearing former Governor.

That’s why the opposition to Allen in his quest for his party’s nomination seems so surprising.  Allen is still one of the most sought after guests in Republican circles, and the number of people who claim to know him personally is staggering.  Something I know from first-hand observation.  Amazingly, Allen seems to know them too.  And that too I know from personal observation.  However, there are still some barriers to a George Allen Senate nomination that the Allen campaign would be wise to consider.

For one thing, there is a generational factor.  It’s been almost twenty years since Allen was elected Governor, and many voters, and that includes many Republicans, weren’t living in Virginia at the time or were too young to remember his term in office.  All some of these people know about Allen is that he lost his Senate seat six years ago and now he wants it back.  Allen, though he has a strong following, is having to deal with an entirely new generation of activists.  
Later this year the GOP will hold a primary to select its Senate candidate.  For Allen, whose name recognition is far higher with Republican voters, this is an asset, but that only goes so far. When his opponents were limited to relative unknowns such as Jamie Radtke (though her campaign has been surprisingly aggressive), E.W. Jackson, and David McCormick, Allen didn’t have much to worry about.  But, a few weeks ago, one of the House of Delegates most strident conservatives, Bob Marshall joined the fray.  Marshall is younger, claims to be more conservative than Allen, and has a significant following in Republican ranks.  During the 2008 Virginia Republican convention to nominate a candidate for the Senate to run against Mark Warner, Marshall came within a handful of voters of defeating former Governor Jim Gilmore for the nomination.

Also, it isn’t just a generation gap that’s causing Allen some concerns.  His opponents have managed to land a few punches.  Allen’s time in the Senate coincided with the Federal Government’s return to massive deficit spending.  Allen, as his opponents readily point out, supported every appropriation bill, and offered no significant protest to what was a constantly increasing federal budget.  Allen’s defense is that this was because of defense needs.  That argument carries some weight, but defense wasn’t the only driver behind what some have called an era of conservative big government.

There is also a feeling that Allen, because of his unfortunate 2006 campaign, is cursed with the label of being a loser.  That’s not fair, but his defeat in 2006 was due to an inept campaign, and a candidate, who try as he might, just couldn’t seem to avoid putting his foot in his mouth. 

Allen has worked hard to shed the legacy of 2006.  He has toned down the rhetoric, carefully avoids falling into the media’s gotcha questions, and has focused his campaign on creating jobs, fiscal responsibility, and his opposition to the President’s health care plan.  It’s a good strategy for the general election, which he may very well win, but before he can reach that critical step he needs to woo back many in the GOP.   It shouldn’t be that hard.  But he needs to find ways to connect with the new generation of activists who don’t know him that well, as well as some of those who think he may be past his prime. 

The message is simple.  That George Allen, that sparring and energetic champion of conservative causes, is as conservative as ever, and still up to the job.   

You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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