Va. Senate: George Allen's Tough Balancing Act
Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) has perhaps the most difficult task of any of the Republicans considering a 2008 bid -- he must simultaneously appear as though the only thing on his mind is winning a second Senate term this November while also making clear to activists across the country that he is interested in a national bid in two years.
Allen had been effectively walking that tight rope until Sunday, when he appeared to slip up, telling New York Times quoted -- during a trip to Iowa, no less -- that the pace of the Senate is "too slow for me."
Dick Wadhams, Allen's chief of staff, said frustration with the pace of the Senate is "shared by a lot of people who are involved in the process and watch the process." As evidence, Wadhams pointed out that the Senate is voting tomorrow to decide whether it should even debate the issue of immigration. Wadhams's point: Allen is used to working at the pace of an executive, which he was when he served as Virginia's governor from 1993-1997.
Others friendly to Allen note that his recent rhetoric (including a congressional paycheck penalty proposal that was welcomed with raucous applause at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference) is that of a populist outsider to the political process and his comments to the New York Times fit into that mold.
Regardless, Democrats immediately jumped on Allen's comments. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director J.B. Poersch sent a tongue-in-cheek letter to the National Football League Monday recommending Allen, the son of a legendary coach of the same name, to be the next commissioner of the league. "Senator Allen is bored in his current job, so we presume he will be taking his name off the ballot in Virginia this year and will be looking for work in a new industry," wrote Poersch.
The campaign of former technology lobbyist Harris Miller, one of the two Democrats hoping to challenge Allen this fall, called on Allen to resign today. "If George Allen is too bored to deal with these problems, he ought to get out of the way and let someone else give it a shot," said Mo Elleithee, a consultant to the Miller campaign. Kristian Denny Todd, a spokeswoman for the other Democratic candidate -- former Secretary of the Navy James Webb -- described Allen's time in the Senate as "ho-hum, business as usual, Bush policy rubberstamping representation."
(For the record, Allen did not use the word "bored" himself.)
Despite the emergence of two Democratic challengers, Allen has not slowed his ambitious national travel schedule in recent weeks. Last Thursday he was in Texas. Allen then spent Friday in South Carolina, Saturday in New Hampshire and was back in Virginia yesterday.
Contrast Allen's handling of the 2006/2008 conundrum with that of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). Clinton is widely seen as the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 but has refused to even broach the possibility of national run, relentlessly repeating that she is focused on winning reelection in 2006.
Clinton has some advantages that Allen does not enjoy. She is universally known among Democratic voters and is already at the top of every primary poll. Those twin benefits allow her to sit back and watch as the Democrats hoping to emerge as the anti-Hillary scramble for grassroots and financial support.
Allen is in the reverse situation, not nearly as well known nationally as Clinton or even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- one of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination in 2008.
Although dust-ups like this are probably inevitable for Allen as he courts voters in both the Commonwealth and across the country, he has little choice in the matter. Sacrifice Virginia and he may lose his Senate seat in November; sacrifice national activists and he will go nowhere no matter how comfortably he wins this fall.
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