The unlikely return of George Allen


Will George Allen’s ability to capitalize on anti-Obama sentiment put him back on the political map? (Washington Time-Zuma Press)

Depending on when you’re reading this, Virginia’s ex-governor, ex-senator, and ongoing political punch line George Allen is either a) the presumptive Republican senatorial nominee, or b) the actual Republican senatorial nominee. The chance that he is c) nursing his wounds after a humiliating primary loss is so infinitesimally slim that, should that actually be the case, we will personally consume a pair of Allen’s meticulously polished cowboy boots.

Not that his opponents didn’t try to knock him out, mind you. His three remaining Republican contenders (Tea Party leader Jamie Radtke, Delegate Bob Marshall, and Chesapeake minister Earl Walker “E.W.” Jackson) all took their shots in last week’s third and final debate, but Allen escaped relatively unscathed. In fact, the only lasting effect Allen’s primary challengers will probably have is in Democratic campaign ads, which are sure to highlight the no-holds-barred attacks of Radtke, who called Allen “an election disaster waiting to happen,” and Marshall, who accused him of “stray[ing] from the conservative message when he was in the Senate.” (Jackson tried to distinguish himself as the nice guy by directing most of his fire at Tim Kaine and Barack Obama—a frontrunner strategy that would have worked much better if he had been, you know, the actual frontrunner.)

The fact that George “Welcome to America” Allen, who was cast into political exile after his U.S. Senate loss to Jim Webb six years ago, is once again Virginia’s great Republican congressional hope is beyond surreal. If you had asked us then what Allen’s future held, we would have guessed a long and successful stint as an NFL color commentator. But politics is nothing if not peculiar, and Allen’s unlikely resurrection is certainly no more or less surprising than the fact that Virginia’s electoral votes helped put a black man in the White House.

The question now, of course, is whether or not Allen can follow his miraculous comeback path all the way to the halls of Congress. Polls have shown him and his Democratic opponent Tim Kaine neck-and-neck for months now (although Kaine has been decisively winning the money race thus far). There’s a chance that Allen’s primary win, no matter how expected, might give him a temporary boost as the party rallies around its triumphant nominee.

But long-term, one thing seems certain: Allen’s success or failure will have almost nothing to do with his personality or inspiring speeches. The reason being that both of these variables are being kept on a tight leash, lest the man have another “macaca moment” and completely destroy his campaign. The result is a plodding, mechanical candidate who is obviously hoping to ride a bad economy and a surge of anti-Obama voters all the way to the U.S. Senate.

Will it work? Well, as Wisconsin’s recall-defeating Governor Scott Walker proved last week, Republicans are certainly highly motivated and well-organized (not to mention obscenely well-financed), and will rally around even the most bland and uninspiring candidate, given the right incentives. But what people liked about George Allen (if they liked anything at all) was his straight-talking good-ol’-boy demeanor and unapologetic conservatism. Whether voters will warm to Allen 2.0, with his focus-grouped talking points and stilted speaking style, is something that remains to be seen.