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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.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 27, 2006; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008 , Senate  
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I agree with that Brent!

And Webb is clearly the better man for the job. I do not think he is racist - but do think the Miller camp is grasping at straws.

Posted by: Stacey | April 4, 2006 1:47 AM | Report abuse

In the wake of all the scandels in Washington I honestly don't see how a millionier lobbyist is going to win votes either. Allen is begging to run against Miller because he will paint Miller as a corupt washington insider and make himself out to be a man of the people. Fair or not I don't think many swing voters will be able to vote for a lobbyiest no matter what party they are from.

Posted by: Brent | March 28, 2006 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Richard Nutwell wrote above: "It is very perplexing to me that it is taking Virginia democrats so long to wake up to the fact the Jim Webb is to only candidate that really has a great chance to defeat George Allen."

You're kidding, right?

James (Jim) H. Webb Jr. himself wrote in the WSJ on May 22, 2000 (only six years ago), titled 'Taking on The Status Quo':

"Affirmative action, which originally sought to repair the state-induced damage to blacks from slavery and its aftermath, has within one generation brought about a permeating state-sponsored racism that is as odious as the Jim Crow laws it sought to countermand. A Soviet-style bureaucracy of political commissars now monitors every level of our society to ensure that racial and gender "diversity" matches pre-ordained models, using the awesome powers of government to make certain that white males are not "overrepresented" in education, employment or government contracts."

Good lord, that was six years ago, not 60 years ago. Webb was 54 years old when he wrote that, and proves that he is completely out of step with one of the most iconic and successful actions ever taken by Democratic leadership. Are there problems with Affirmitive Action? Yes, but Webb would have you believe that 1980's Republican philosophy still rules the day.

Anyone who is with sound mind and reasonable intellect should avoid Webb.

By the way--I am a combat decorated Veteran. Those who were there know that citations and ribbon only get you so far in the real world. Running on medals alone will get Webb no help on the battle of political influence in the Senate, not to mention Joe Average, VA, USA.

Posted by: Stephen Douglas, VA | March 27, 2006 10:45 PM | Report abuse

I would have loved to see a Senate Race between Warner and Allen. Warner would have destroyed Allen just look at the polls in Virginia between Warner and Allen in a Presidential Race. Warner beats Allen by 10-15%. For Presidential Republican Primaries, I think he can win the nom and beat John McCain. He seems to Republicans as George W. Bush. Seems like those Republicans would want to flee the George W. Bush type, but I think they love the memory of when George was high in polls numbers. Allen can rally the far right Republican base, but Independents and moderate Republicans will be turned off and jump to the side of Democrats. Unless, the Dems nominate Hillary, then those conservative Independents and Moderate Republicans will side with any GOP candidate. Hopefully for the Dems sake the Republicans nominate Allen and they nominate a crossover appeal candidate like Edwards, Bayh, or Warner.

Posted by: Josh | March 27, 2006 10:03 PM | Report abuse

It is very perplexing to me that it is taking Virginia democrats so long to wake up to the fact the Jim Webb is to only candidate that really has a great chance to defeat George Allen. Webb is a decorated Vietnam War veteran, and a former Secretary of the Navy. (Check out the WebbforSenate web site for much more). I can't think of a thing Mr. Allen has accomplished in the senate but he is an excellent politician (not a complement).

Posted by: Richard Nutwell | March 27, 2006 8:21 PM | Report abuse

Has Allen scheduled his trip to Buck Owens' funeral yet?

Posted by: Wahoo ! | March 27, 2006 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Webb has it right: the beauty of marching lockstep with someone else's point of view is that it requires no thought, no involvement and - best of all - no decision-making. Let's all send a condolence card to Senator Allen expressing our deepest sympathies for the apparent death of his ability to think: "this is your brain on the GOP." No, wait, that's the House Republicans I'm thinking of. No, wait....

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | March 27, 2006 6:16 PM | Report abuse

It seems to me that Webb's and Miller's campaigns have done exactly what the Democrats wanted them to do, Make Allen focus on VA or lose it.
Also Chris I think the last paragraph gets it wrong. The Activists will come with the victory. If he can show a ten point victory in VA then all the GOPers will back him as the candidate who can beat Warner in VA. That will lead to the activists jumping on his bandwagon. I am curious how many presidents in the past fifty years have we had who had similar situations ie have to get re-elected (for governor or congress) two years before they run for president.

PS Good to have you back Chris.

Posted by: Andy R | March 27, 2006 5:19 PM | Report abuse

I know Harris Miller, and I know that Harris will drag George Allen out of "early retirement" from the U.S. Senate.

Oh, I know...for all you nutty bloggers who love James Webb, this is not a slight on the myth, the man, the legend of Webb.

Truth is, Harris will win the Democratic Primary because no real Democrat wants to see two Republicans running a campaign in the Fall.

Besides, no one but Harris has the business background, the political resources, and the 10-15 Million Dollars needed to supplement a state-wide Senatorial Campaign. Harris is going to make George Allen spend every last dime in his piggy bank!

Go Harris Miller! Bye-Bye George Allen!

Posted by: Michael | March 27, 2006 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Allen is a blot on our beautiful Virginia landscape.

Posted by: Nick Jenkins | March 27, 2006 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Allen is an idiot! and a carbon-copy of W. The pace of the job is too slow? He clearly hasn't heard the sound of his own voice. He'd put anyone to sleep. A bored simpleton is not someone we need as president.

Posted by: lola | March 27, 2006 4:43 PM | Report abuse

He needs Dick Cheney's help....If Cheney can come out of the the federal continuity of government Mountain bunker outside of DC where the RNC has him hidden.

Galvanize the republicans-conservatives on one side and moderates hiding somewhere on the other side....Then we see what shade of purple Virginia really is.

Posted by: zippydw | March 27, 2006 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Allen is an empty suit who didn't even realize the Senate had nominated a new Fed Chairman. But he also has the most congenial personality of any of the prospective GOP '08 candidates. He actually scares me more than McCain and I'm hoping Webb will either knock him out or diminish his political strength.

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal Journal | March 27, 2006 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Allen better put his '08 bid on the back burner and hold on to what he has or voluntarily relinquish it. Thousands of Virginia Democrats who would love to continue turning the Commonwealth blue and too many slip-ups like this just might help us do that. Either Democrat would pose a strong challenge and this state is not as red as it was a decade ago.

The Senator had better put Virginia first or step aside.

Posted by: Chris | March 27, 2006 4:18 PM | Report abuse

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