How Allen Blew It in Virginia

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

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She might have done better to perfect her recipe for humble pie. Allen's verbal missteps were amplified by an arrogance that even town car drivers were known to comment on, and that showed its ugly face when Allen was forced to comment on an unusual office accessory that had once graced his desk: just a "little old noose." Of course. Hardly big enough to hang a mouse, but quite large enough to rope in numerous allegations of racial intolerance, ranging from the credible (he has a peculiar fondness for the Confederacy) to the ridiculous and untrue (he had a dog named "Sambo"). Seeking to assuage concerned voters, Allen held what the campaign called an "ethnic rally." Proving him to be not racist — anymore — just condescending.

Outside of Virginia, the Allen campaign's most subtle but surely most misguided error in judgment went largely unnoticed: Faced with a challenger steadfastly in the middle (Webb served in Reagan's Administration, is a former Marine and takes a conservative line on immigration), Allen ran to Webb's left. One campaign commercial rattled off a series of Webb statements painting him as unfriendly to women's interests at best, a misogynist at worst. The ad's tagline? "Webb: Right for '06 ... 1806." Ham-fisted, corny and apparently unaware that there are plenty of Virginians who pine for the 19th century—Allen among them.

Allen had a 20-point lead on Webb in June, and that 14:1 fundraising advantage had leapt to 16:1. By July — before Macacagate or ham sandwiches had entered the picture — that lead had closed to around 10. By the end of August, some polls showed Webb ahead. Allen's last desperate move was to funnel some steamy sex scenes cribbed from Webb's novels to Matt Drudge; their content inflamed cultural conservatives. The rest of the state shrugged. At least it could finally be determined that George Allen read books.

Allen's ineptness was the first thing that came to White House spokesman Tony Snow's mind when reporters pressed him on the impact of the Administration's Iraq policy on voters. A "statement by Senator Allen ended up being a key issue in that particular campaign," he pointed out, adding lamely, "You had various things that people said on the stump." For this White House, George Allen's disaster counts as a bright spot.

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