Rough waters for George Allen
It's no surprise that George Allen wants his Senate seat back. The question for him is whether he understands how much the political landscape has changed in Virginia since his disastrous reelection run in 2006.
Republican insiders say that Allen is a much-chastened, humbler politician -- a far cry from the smug, cowboy-boot-wearing hombre whose "macaca" insult aimed at a man of Indian descent torpedoed his 2006 campaign.
What we're now getting is a remade Allen who claims to be an "outsider" in Washington politics who decries the free-spending ways of Congress during most of the last decade. Problem is, he was right there from 2001 to 2006 cheerleading George W. Bush through his budget-busting tax cuts for the well-to-do, minimizing banking rules that helped spur the financial meltdown, and voting for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that still haven't been paid for.
Allen has already been targeted for his "Mr. Washington Insider" role by such upstarts in the Virginia Republican Party as Jamie Radtke, who briefly worked for Allen and then became a highly-successful leader of the Virginia Tea Party movement. To blunt Allen, all she really has to do is ask him to please explain his voting record while in the Senate.
Allen may also be banking on the "aw-shucks" Southern manner and family legacy (his father was a Washington Redskins coach) that went down well when he was Virginia's governor from 1994 to 1998. He comes on like a happy, oversize puppy. But his run against Jim Webb in 2006, however, revealed that he really spent his childhood in Southern California and provoked some prickliness on his part at the revelation of Jewish roots on his mother's side, as if that matters in today's Virginia.
Another problem for Allen is that he's plunging into some different and hard times. Virginia was on a roll when he was governor. Back in the 1990s, Northern Virginia was becoming a high-technology magnet for Internet firms such as America Online and for a raft of telecommunications firms banking on fiber optics. The good times made it easy for him to pursue his agenda of cutting welfare for the poor and parole.
When he was senator, he watched the state snarf up billions in post 9/11 defense dollars, especially in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Easy money linked to lax federal regulation spurred construction of overpriced and oversized homes in outer suburbs such as Loudoun and Prince William counties.
One couldn't ask for a more different environment these days. The defense milk cow is about to be slaughtered. Housing starts remain anemic. Jobs can't be found. Deficits have soared.
And what Allen has been doing while out of office can't be called truly great preparation for a new run for the Senate. As folks like Radtke were busy in the field building grass-roots Tea Parties, Allen was working in a sinecure-type job as a highly paid energy lobbyist.
| January 26, 2011; 12:35 PM ET
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