How Allen Blew It in Virginia

  • Share
  • Read Later

U.S. Sen. George Allen, with his wife Susan by his side, finishes reading his concession speech on November 9, 2006 in Alexandria, Virginia.

The pundits have determined that Democrats owe their victories to Bush's unpopularity, and at least once in the next week you will hear Bush supporters remind you that "Bush's name wasn't on the ballot." Virginia, where Senator George Allen has finally conceded the loss of his seat to Jim Webb, may be the one state where they wish it had been.

It's true, the Webb campaign's single strategy appeared to be to drill Allen's voting record—96% of them cast in the service of Bush's agenda—into Virginians' heads. Also, Webb, like every Democrat this cycle and some Republicans, hammered on the Administration's mistakes in Iraq.

But exit polls in Virginia show that Bush has, for him, an unusually high approval rating of 45% in the state. Furthermore, while Iraq was not far from the voters' minds, they told pollsters the economy and terrorism were more important, with 45% and 44%, respectively, saying they were "extremely important." These are precisely the issues that President himself believed would turn the elections around; as he told reporters yesterday, "I thought when it was all said and done, the American people would understand the importance of taxes and the importance of security." Just 41% of Virginians in the exit poll said that the war in Iraq was extremely important, compared to 46% who said "values issues" were. These are the kind of numbers that Karl Rove was trying to conjure for every GOP candidate, and, by all conventional wisdom, they should have worked in Allen's favor—Virginia passed an anti-gay marriage amendment, after all.

But George Allen ran one of the worst campaigns in the history of modern elections. Webb was an upstart, party-switching late entry into the race; Allen was being crowned before the race had even begun. In the middle of a mandatory paragraph allowing that Allen might not win, Norfolk's Virginian-Pilot didn't — in April 2006 — think they were going out on much of a limb in calling Allen's victory a foregone conclusion: "not when the officeholder is so full of vitality as to have a legitimate shot at a presidential nomination two years down the road. Not when he starts with at least a 14:1 fundraising advantage. And not when he so clearly has fire in the belly for the rugged challenge ahead."

He might have fire in his belly, but he also had a foot in his mouth. Allen's infamous "macaca" gaffe was followed by a series of muddled apologies and non-apologies that elevated the obscure racial slur into headline status. Then, amid speculation about Allen's possible Jewish heritage, Allen told a reporter that questions about that heritage amounted to "aspersions" on his character. Never mind that the chatter turned out to have a concrete source: Allen's mother was, in fact, Jewish, though Allen took pains to emphasize he was not raised in the faith. "I still had a ham sandwich for lunch," he boasted on the day he finally confirmed his mother's background. "And my mother made great pork chops."

  1. Previous
  2. 1
  3. 2