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Virginia's New Odd Couple

This weekend, George Allen--the conservative George Bush loyalist who dreams of the presidency but first has to win reelection to the Senate--will appear in the kind of liberal political event that is more commonly associated with the likes of John Lewis, the last pioneer of the civil rights movement remaining in Congress.

Why is Sen. Allen joining hands across party lines to lead a "racial reconciliation pilgrimage" to Farmville in Prince Edward County?

Check your election calendars for the two answers: November 2006 and November 2008.

When you're George Allen and you've glued yourself to President Bush over the past six years, you wake up one day and realize that you have two big tasks, and Bush isn't going to be of much help with either of them.

To establish himself as a real contender in the 2008 GOP presidential sweepstakes, Virginia's junior senator needs a convincing win in his reelection bid this fall. Two Democrats--including one, Jim Webb, whom voters have actually heard of--are vying for the right to challenge Allen. The Dems have a tough battle ahead of them--Allen seems extraordinarily popular in much of the state--but Allen is keenly aware that his big win in 2000, unseating the lackluster Chuck Robb, came with only 52 percent of the vote.

And with the president's popularity numbers in a very droopy phase, Allen has been picking out areas where he can comfortably tack to the center. Once a reliable defender of the prez on the cable talk shows, Allen now occasionally breaks with Bush. So when the Faith and Politics Institute came along looking for congress folk to join in a conference recalling the ugly chapter in which Prince Edward County closed its public schools from 1954 to 1964 rather than integrate its classrooms, Allen was happy to sign up.

Context: Six years ago, Robb campaigned hard for black votes, blasting Allen's "intolerable" and "appalling" record on race. Virginia's Democratic Party that year circulated fliers painting Allen as a racial "extremist" who once "hung a Confederate flag in his home and hung a noose in his law office."

But Robb's racial appeal didn't work, and may have backfired: Allen, who had expected to get no more than 10 percent of the black vote, won nearly a 20 percent share.

Can a more moderate-seeming Allen push that a bit higher? A trip to Farmville couldn't hurt.

By Marc Fisher |  April 27, 2006; 7:16 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

If Allen is so popular why does survey USA have him under 50% in job approval? Webb's campaign released a poll a week or two back that has the challenger within 7% of the "popular" senator. Allen is not popular in Virginia, he's struggling in the senate without a single legislative accomplishment to call his own. His legacy as a governor was a broken budget, a transportation nightmare, and failure.

Posted by: James F | April 27, 2006 10:20 AM

Allen's just some California kid gone redneck chic. He doesn't even have the seniority in the Senate that would normally lead me to vote for an incumbent. He's going to have to do a lot more than just ride his horse through town to get my vote.

Posted by: OD | April 27, 2006 10:51 AM

It's Thursday. Where's the weekly chat?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 27, 2006 12:37 PM

It's time for Sen. Toolie to get a swift kick in the can from voters with his own stupid cowboy boots, causing him to swallow his chewing tobacco. Then, he can return to Hee-Haw land and await the next tornado.

Posted by: HM | April 27, 2006 1:25 PM

Dead tree edition had a note at the bottom that there was no chat this week and it will return next week.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 27, 2006 1:31 PM

Who says Allen is popular? I'm a Dem who votes for Sen. Warner, but don't care for Sen. Allen for a number of reason. It's scary how like Bush he is. Bush doesn't listen to anyone, and Allen doesn't appear to listen either. I have not had an e-mail or letter to which Sen. Warner hasn't replied (okay, it's probably his staff). On the other hand, Sen. Allen responds about 5% of the time. I actually think that Sen. Warner listens and can be influenced. Sen. Allen is totally clueless. He did mess up the budget in Virginia, and, like Bush, doesn't play well with others.

Posted by: Alice | April 27, 2006 2:38 PM

This will be my first chance to vote for a Virginia senator, and I'm looking forward to voting against Allen. I find it hard to understand his appeal. Others have described him as "an empty shirt," and that characterization sounds right to me.

I agree w/ Alice, too, re Sen. Warner. He is definitely an "old school" guy, but, based on what I've seen, I wish we had more of them. He is not excessively partisan and seems devoted to doing what is best for the country. Given the cravenness of so many contemporary politicians, even his "Southern gentleman" charm is a plus.

Posted by: THS | April 27, 2006 5:24 PM

Missed your chat today, Marc. It's part of my weekly routine. Hope you were doing something interesting that you'll use to enlighten us during the next week or so.

Kudos for the upgrades to the blog, i.e., the larger type and the preview button.

Posted by: THS | April 27, 2006 5:26 PM

Allen for What? President? Let's see here. He and Bush work more for Exxon Mobile than those who voted them in - more pointless drilling, more price gouging? I'd rather see Virginia farmers getting paid to grow more corn and see consumers using the E85 product of that labor and see Exxon Mobile bankrupt than seeing Allen in any future political role. Exxon and their political cronies like Allen and Bush deserve as much. They have betrayed consumer and voter trust. As for Allen and Bush on immigration, by not protecting our sovereign borders, they have betrayed the conservative core principles and national unity on which they ran so deceptively before. Some security system -how many terrorists have crossed the same border as illegals thanks to Allen's inaction? And, didn't Allen vote for the Dubai deal? Some global war on terrorism. Can you hear Bush and Allen in the same breath saying -"we want illegals to learn English to become citizens?". Right! Is that why Bush's FCC continues to issue countless Spanish only broadcast licenses in the United States of America? Let's just change our name like they did in LA, Mexico - United States of Mexico has a great ring.

And Iraq? "We gotta get rid of Al Qaeda in Iraq" is the Bush/Allen party line. What a joke! You don't have to read all the history books that Bush and Allen and Rove didn't - just watch the History channel. The crazy Iraqi dictator Hussein fought those same fundamentalists when he invaded Iran. He didn't want them in his country anymore than we want them here. So, why did Bush promote the invasion of Iraq? It was a favor to his buds in Exxon, the same ones who own Allen.

Let's see, what else has Allen done for the public good or for his constituents? Tax breaks? None for me yet. How about stem cell research? Nope, let's not go there. It's immoral to develop new lines with Federal funding. Let Europe and China do that while we flush away the same embryos that could have saved Ronald Regan and millions of others who will suffer worse fates because Allen and Bush answer to a higher calling than medical pragmatism.

How about Heath insurance and Social Security? Yep, the Bush Allen fix (Dems too) is to add 20 million illegals to the rosters. Of course, you have to question whether the big pharmaceuticals companies have a hand in that decision making too. They'd lose as much money to stem cell treatments as Exxon would lose to corn and bio fuels if we transitioned too quickly.

So, what has Allen achieved in his tenure and why does he deserve to remain in politics in any fashion? He has achieved the near mastery of political doublespeak, just enough to gain a 50% approval rating. I'm no democrat but I'm not voting for Allen.

Posted by: Everyman | April 28, 2006 10:47 AM

Wrong again, Mark!

Your head must have been in the sand! Plenty of Democrats who have been around for a long time know who Harris Miller is, and will be voting for him in the primary.

Funny thing, most people never heard of James H. Webb. I knew who he was: The same guy who voted for Bush in 2000, publicly endorsed George Allen in 2000 (helping my friend Chuck Robb to lose), asking to help John Kerry's presidential run AFTER bashing him in opeds, and then voting for Bush in 2004 anyway!!!!!

No vote for Webb from me--EVER. I'll vote for Allen in November before I vote for a turncoat flip-flopper like Webb.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 28, 2006 9:19 PM

I cannot recall a time in recent history when the need for a legitimate third party candidate is more evident. The conservatives and liberals have never been so possessive of their "labels" and so polar in their divisiveness and antipathy towards one another. 80% of the public has made it clear that they want a permanent wall built across our border and they want the government to uphold the laws of the land. Meanwhile, both Red and Blue leaders essentially are telling the voters to go pound sand. For me, the choice is no longer voting between the worst of two evils - between an Allen or Miller. Nor is my choice to blindly follow the dogmas of one of the two narrowly focused "party" lines like some dim witted pre-programmed automaton. It's time to find and elect a genuine leader who will work to honor the will of his/her constituents vs. the will of the party line and those with "greater" special interests and access than the average citizen. It's time to move beyond the corruption, the wink and nod practices, that underscore professional lobbying and politics as usual.

Posted by: Everyman | May 1, 2006 12:41 PM

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