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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