George Allen’s Two Race Two-Step
Sheryl Gay Stolberg has an interesting profile of George Allen who, like Hillary Clinton, is simultaneously running for re-election to the Senate in November and eyeing the White House in 2008. Unlike Mrs. Clinton, he actually has an opponent this year.
George Allen makes little secret that he is bored with life in the Senate. “I made more decisions in half a day as governor than you can make in a whole week in the Senate,” Senator Allen said earlier this month as he dashed into a recent Republican fund-raiser in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Over eggs and hash browns with a Republican crowd in Davenport, he lamented about being in the Senate, “It’s too slow for me.”
Senator Allen, Republican of Virginia, had traveled to Iowa with designs on the White House in 2008, so his musings on his job’s duties may not sound surprising. With his conservative voting record and down-home folksy manner — he wears black lizard-skin cowboy boots and tucks a tin of chewing tobacco in his suit pocket — and his name recognition as the son of a famous football coach, he has been crisscrossing the country, pitching himself as an alternative to Senator John McCain.
But the senator from Virginia may be getting ahead of himself. Even as he laments his day job, he is dancing a delicate two-step, asking Virginians to return him to it. Here in Culpeper, far away from the presidential proving ground of Iowa, he sounded a different theme, that of the grateful public servant: “Thank you for allowing me to serve you all.” In a year that is looking up for Democrats, Mr. Allen’s re-election bid just got tougher than he expected. Mark Warner, the Democratic former governor of Virginia, decided against a challenge, but James Webb, a Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan, Mr. Allen’s political idol, recently jumped into the Democratic primary, turning a ho-hum race into one to watch. As Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, Mr. Allen’s Republican colleague, said, “George has got to pay attention.”
Political analysts say Mr. Allen’s likability is his biggest strength. Even Democrats say he passes the beer test, as in he seems like the kind of guy with whom one would want to drink beer. Stuart Rothenberg, the editor of a nonpartisan political newsletter, has said that if Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were put into a blender, you would come out with George Allen. “Their strength is not their intellectual gravitas,” Mr. Rothenberg said. “Their strength is their commitment to principles and their personal outlook on life and politics.”
The senator relishes the Reagan comparison, but at a time when President Bush’s poll numbers are in the tank, he hems and haws around the idea that he is like Mr. Bush. “I’m George Allen,” he said. “I am who I am.”
And Mr. Allen is coy about whether he wants to succeed Mr. Bush. “So, are you going to run?” one woman in Culpeper asked. The senator from Virginia leaned back on his cowboy boots, his face flushing slightly red. “No comment,” he said. “I’m focused on re-election this year in Virginia.”
Allen has more strengths as a candidate than McCain but has some serious disadvantages, notably a huge gap in name recognition and fundraising infrastructure. Allen is likely, though, to be more appealing to Republican primary voters, especially in the South and is sufficiently likable as to be a plausible general election candidate.
He does have to get past Webb, though, who will not be a pushover in a year when voters are frustrated with the GOP. My guess is that, ultimately, Allen wins his re-election bid but at the cost of falling behind further in fundraising to candidates who are already free to concentrate on 2008.