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Allen Attempts to Start Over

Virginia Sen. George Allen (R) made an unusual two-minute statewide ad buy last night in hopes of refocusing the debate in his increasingly competitive race against former Navy Secretary Jim Webb (D).

In his extended ad (video) Allen apologizes (again) for his "macaca moment" before reminding Virginia voters of why they elected him to the House, Senate and governor's mansion.

"Virginians expect to hear us address the real issues you care about," says Allen. "Over the past several weeks that hasn't been the case. Some of this I've brought on myself." He goes on: "I'm confident that if this Senate race is decided on issues, ideas and my proven record of performance, you'll allow me to continue serving you."

Allen also makes special mention of the war in Iraq, which has emerged as the touchstone issue in his race this year against Webb. "Like many of you, I'm concerned by the war in Iraq," says Allen. "I want our troops to come home as soon as possible." He also says, however, that leaving Iraq any time before victory is achieved would be a mistake and make the country a "safe haven for terrorists."

Dick Wadhams, Allen's campaign manager, said the goal of the two-minute address was to get beyond the 30-second television commercials and "get this campaign back to discussing the issues Virginians care about." Wadhams admitted that since early August -- when Allen made his macaca miscue -- the race has featured lots of "background noise," and the address was an attempt to cut through the clutter and refocus the race.

Kristian Denny, a consultant to Webb's campaign, called the extended ad "a move of desperation," adding: "Obviously he thinks he needs to change the subject."

As for the recent reports of an Allen campaign staff shakeup, Wadhams argued that reportedly "new" staffers Dan Allen, a member of the media consulting firm run by Scott Howell, and former Allen Chief of Staff Jay Timmons have both had a "presence" in the campaign for months. "If they're new, they sure have been around a long time," said Wadhams.

Polling shows the race has narrowed considerably since earlier this year. A Mason-Dixon poll released over the weekend had Allen and Webb tied at 43 percent. Two auto-dialed polls showed Allen ahead by five points (Survey USA) and six points (Rasmussen).

Both campaigns are now on statewide television. Allen is running a positive ad featuring Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and a negative spot that attacks Webb's past opposition to women serving in the military. Webb is responding with an ad of his own featuring testimonials from a number of former female military officers testifying to his commitment to expanding opportunity for women in the armed forces.

Jim Webb broke down barriers, " says Christine Gromek, a 1984 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. "He changed things as Navy Secretary."

At the end of the ad Webb says: "It's easy to just take shots at people. It's harder to actually change things. That's what I did as Navy Secretary."

Given the tightness of the race, Allen's call for a high-minded issue-oriented campaign is a pipe dream. Both sides are sure to use the millions they have raised to paint the other as out-of step with the state's electorate. We'll be interested to see whether (and when) the two national parties begin spending cash on television ads in the state -- neither side has yet sponsored a single commercial.

The most recent Senate Line had Virginia ranked as the 10th most likely seat to change parties this fall. Make sure to check back in on Friday to see where the Old Dominion race ranks this time around.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 3, 2006; 4:49 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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