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Posted at 10:41 AM ET, 01/24/2011

Remembering George Allen's 2006 campaign

By Adam Serwer

George Allen, the former Republican senator from Virginia, was a potential Republican presidential candidate before losing his 2006 Senate race to Democrat Jim Webb by a thin margin of around 10,000 votes. 

With the news that Allen is set to announce another run for Senate in 2012, Chris Cilizza and Aaron Blake offer more than the usual abridged version of how Allen's loss is usually remembered, as a consequence of his referring to a Democratic videographer of South Asian descent as "macaca" and saying to him, "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."

While his utterance of the now infamous term "macaca" is what most people remember about Allen's 2006 campaign against Webb -- and rightly so -- his inability to immediately understand the damage done by the comment or quickly (and effectively) shut it down as an issue spoke to a broader hubris that had infected the incumbent.

Allen, put simply, began to believe his own press. He was on a glide path to reelection -- Webb was unable to raise any significant money before "macaca" -- and was prepping for a 2008 presidential bid, evidenced by the presence of Wadhams who was, at that time, regarded as the hottest GOP operative in the country.

Republicans remember the 2006 Virginia Senate campaign as another outrageous example of media bias and racial McCarthyism from liberals. Like Democrats in 2012, Republicans were facing an extremely difficult political landscape and were being weighed down by an unpopular president. Those fundamentals probably had more to do with Webb's victory than the "macaca" incident. But Allen's remarks were part of a broader pattern of behavior and racial dogwhistling that was troubling, of which the whole "macaca" thing was only a small part.

As political scientist Brendan Nyhan documented at the time, Allen had an affinity for Confederate Lost Cause symbolism, hanging a noose from a tree outside his law office and displaying the Confederate flag in his television ads. As governor, Allen also issued a proclamation celebrating "Confederate History Month" and characterizing the Civil War as "a four-year struggle for independence and sovereign rights," without mentioning that the "sovereign right" being defended was the right to own human beings as property. The proclamation didn't mention slavery at all. 

When current Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) issued a similar proclamation last year, he ultimately backed down and apologized after being excoriated by the press and prominent black supporters. Hopefully that means that the kind of neo-Confederate dogwhistling Allen mastered now has political costs that outweigh its benefits. 

The 2012 Senate campaign in Virginia shouldn't be all about what George Allen said and did six years ago, but it's important to remember that what happened wasn't an isolated incident -- and that there's a big difference between recognition and repentance and just cosmetically cleaning up your image.

By Adam Serwer  | January 24, 2011; 10:41 AM ET
Categories:  2012, Senate Dems, Senate Republicans  
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Next: Obama's speech may seek to redefine the "center"


I find it incredible that the liberal pundits keep on talking about Sarah Palin's "qualifications" to be President.

When the left DISREGARDED all discussion of Obama's "qualifications" in 2008.

Now the nation is stuck with a Clearly Unqualified person in office. The liberals refused to talk about this. This is Racist, pure and simple.



Posted by: SunlightandLowTaxes | January 24, 2011 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Webb - Born Fightin!

Allen - Born With a Silver Spoon in His Mouth!

Posted by: mikefromArlington | January 24, 2011 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I like Webb - he carries guns to Capitol Hill.


Let me be clear: if a person applies two different standards - one to whites and one to blacks, that is Racist.

Plain and simple.

Those kinds of pundits do not belong in our political system.


Posted by: SunlightandLowTaxes | January 24, 2011 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Another of Allen's problems is that he isn't really smart. Not that that stops the GOP, but it can be a limitation with other voters. Webb seemed like a good fit for VA.

Posted by: Mimikatz | January 24, 2011 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Allen's lack of intelligence hurt in 2006 because he reminded people of the sitting President, whose ratings were taking a turn for the toxic around that time. I'm not sure it will handicap him that much in 2012.

Posted by: oldabandonedbeachhouse | January 24, 2011 11:28 AM | Report abuse least Obama can count to 10.

Posted by: Twiddle | January 24, 2011 11:28 AM | Report abuse

The inexorable rhythm of the politics of racial insult is interrupted only when the insulter doesn’t fit the Leftist grievance narrative. Which explains in part why Allen’s infamous "Macaca" gaffe was covered by the national news media like it was Armageddon-- while a female Louisiana Democrat who called a black civil-rights leader’s mother "Buckwheat" (after the stereotypical "Little Rascals" character) barely warranted a blip on WaPo's blamestream media outrage-o-meter.

Get over it.

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 24, 2011 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Virginia has a tradition of electing dim bulbs in statewide elections: John Warner, Chuck Robb, George Allen, and the current guv. Kaine and the other Warner aren't exactly bright lights either--safe Blue Dogs with no imagination. Webb begins to look like an outlier in that crowd.

Posted by: thebuckguy | January 24, 2011 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Not sure if I'd call Mark Warner dumb.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | January 24, 2011 12:09 PM | Report abuse

"and that there's a big difference between recognition and repentance and just cosmetically cleaning up your image."

Not so much in politics. The question is whether Allen can clean up his image in the youtube era. If he understands that he has a camera on him 24-7, then he might have a successful rehabilitation. Old habits die hard, though.

Posted by: DDAWD | January 24, 2011 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Just to clarify: 'macaca' is French slang for n!gg3r. (Allen's mother was one of those kicked out of Algeria). That is what Allen called that person.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | January 24, 2011 12:14 PM | Report abuse

VA folks, what was the basis of Allen's previous popularity?

Posted by: mark_in_austin | January 24, 2011 12:39 PM | Report abuse

How many times did the word Macaca appear in the pages of the Washington Post between the day it was first uttered and election day?

Let's go ahead and assign a number to the color that can only be described as "WaPo yellow"

Posted by: skipsailing28 | January 24, 2011 12:43 PM | Report abuse

"VA folks, what was the basis of Allen's previous popularity?"

He's son of NFL coach George Allen? I don't recall anything especially good or poor that he did as Gov.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | January 24, 2011 12:50 PM | Report abuse

"VA folks, what was the basis of Allen's previous popularity?"

He's got that post turtle quality people adore, oh, and a bunch of financial backing that makes for great television.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | January 24, 2011 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Who's running against Allen? Webb is not showing signs of running for reelection.

Posted by: bsimon1 | January 24, 2011 1:17 PM | Report abuse

@mark_in_austin "VA folks, what was the basis of Allen's previous popularity?"

He mainly benefited from getting to be Governor due to a poor opponent who ran emphasizing gun control as a solution to crime while he ran on abolishing parole, welfare reform, and education reform through measuring school performance (SOL). He also benefited from the off year election in 1993 given the anti-Clinton backlash due to the 1993 tax increases, much like the current Governor, McDonnell benefited from the backlash against Obama's health care plan during his first year. Since he did a decent job as Governor, he was elected to the Senate.

From Wikipedia:

"In November 1993, Allen was elected the 67th Governor of Virginia, serving from 1994 to 1998. His opponent in the 1993 election, Attorney General Mary Sue Terry, had an early 29-point lead in public opinion polls and a million-dollar fundraising advantage. However, Allen struck a hot button with voters across party and racial lines with his campaign proposal to abolish parole. This response to a surge of crime in the state connected with voters, in contrast to Terry's proposal to increase gun control as a remedy. Allen overcame the deficit and won with 58.3% of the vote, the largest margin (+17.4 points) since Albertis S. Harrison Jr. defeated H. Clyde Pearson with a margin of +27.7 points in 1961."

Posted by: jnc4p | January 24, 2011 1:21 PM | Report abuse

thebuckguy - Kaine isn't the current Governor. It's Bob McDonnell.

Posted by: tricia8 | January 24, 2011 1:24 PM | Report abuse

@thebuckguy "Virginia has a tradition of electing dim bulbs in statewide elections: John Warner, Chuck Robb, George Allen, and the current guv. Kaine and the other Warner aren't exactly bright lights either--safe Blue Dogs with no imagination. Webb begins to look like an outlier in that crowd."

There's some truth to this, but a more accurate way to put it would be that the conservative electorate of Virginia prefers mediocre politicians who don't try to do too much but who don't screw things up either. Another factor here is the single term limit for Governors limits overly ambitious executive agendas.

Posted by: jnc4p | January 24, 2011 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Hey Sunlightandlowtaxes - want to elaborate a little on how the Pres is "Clearly Unqualified" ?

Surely you don't want to take that road after 8 years of the Moron-in-Chief and all the incoherent BS we have to put up with from the Alaskan grifter

Posted by: polaris11 | January 24, 2011 1:50 PM | Report abuse

The Allen boys have ridden their famous football coach father's name into some great gigs haven't they...and without any discernible record of success. Macacca boy has done the best but brother Bruce also has managed to ride the gravy train without any success or record to have deserved such jobs.

Bruce you may recall followed in his father's footsteps into the NFL. He came to Tampa and destroyed a once proud franchise...from Super Bowl Champs in 2003 to last place with the cupboard bare of talent thanks to some of the most mind numbingly stupid draft choices in recent NFL history. Ohhh but we fortunately got to dump Bruce two years ago..3-13 first year I said the cupboard was 10-6 this year with a great young club. Meanwhile Bruce Allen landed in yet another cushy job with the Redskins. And so Redskin fans how has Bruce worked out for you guys?

Posted by: rukidding7 | January 24, 2011 2:22 PM | Report abuse

[Adam sniffed: "'s important to remember that what happened wasn't an isolated incident."]

You betcha’! Just ask supporters of former KKK Grand Kleagle (recruiter) Senator Robert "Sheetz" Byrd (D-KKK) who famously bloviated, “There are white n!ggers. I’ve seen a lot of white n!ggers in my time. I’m going to use that word.”

Progressive Leftists referred to the Senate’s senior Democrat as the “conscience of the Senate.” They downplay his Grand Kleagle’s white-sheet-wearing days as a “brief mistake” — as if joining the Klan were like knocking over a glass of water. Oopsy!

Own it, Leftists.

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 24, 2011 2:28 PM | Report abuse

[Adam dogwhistled: "there's a big difference between recognition and repentance and just cosmetically cleaning up your image."]

Recall, it was SEIU union-goons (inspired by Obama's calls to "punch back twice as hard") who actually assaulted black tax protester, Ken Gladney, while screaming (neo-Confederate!) racial epithets.

The only thing "cosmetically" cleaned up was the media coverage of that hate crime.

Meanwhile, voters are still waiting for Eric Holder appear before House oversight hearings and subpoenas involving the New Black Panther case.

It’s not like there’s video of them stalking the polling place with batons or anything... oh no, wait...

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 24, 2011 2:38 PM | Report abuse

kadummmy, when Robert Byrd is on the ballot, we'll deal with his history too.

Posted by: Observer691 | January 24, 2011 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Some more light needs to be shed. Conservative Democrats supported George Allen in his race for governor because they said they would not have a broad following a black. (Not necessarily the terms they used.) They were still riled by African-American Doug Wilder having served as governor of Virgina.

Posted by: query0 | January 24, 2011 11:38 PM | Report abuse

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