- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2000

This is not a politically correct RV.

Neither George F. Allen nor his driver wears a seat belt as the recreational vehicle pulls out of a suburban Wal-Mart at the beginning of a four-day road trip, the first leg of a six-week tour of the state.

Mr. Allen props his cowboy boots up on the dashboard, a plug of Copenhagen in his lower lip and a spitting cup on his right.

The 30-foot RV has a 75-gallon fuel tank.

That bit of information offers Mr. Allen, a Republican, all the opening he needs to share his concerns about gas prices with Virginians around the state while also giving the former governor a chance to work in a dig at his Democratic opponent, Sen. Charles S. Robb, and his 1993 proposal to add another 50 cents in taxes to every gallon of gas.

Mr. Allen's focus on the details things like gas prices is one reason he thinks he would be a better senator for Virginia than Mr. Robb.

He instructs the RV driver to make sure they stop to refuel near Lynchburg, where prices will be cheap.

He proudly, and somewhat longingly, recalls the Wawa filling station in Spotsylvania County, where they filled up at $1.39 per gallon the day before.

It's not a politically correct RV, but Mr. Allen will make sure it's economically correct.

The RV, with its crew of four, hits its first stop, the town of Lovingston in Nelson County, and it's typical of an Allen handshake stop.

"I'm going to need your help," he tells the cashiers and shoppers at Lovingston Hardware.

Experience, Mr. Allen said, has taught him that the three best places to greet constituents are barber shops, hardware stores and pharmacies. Banks are good, too, except he hates to interrupt people who are counting money. A politician is probably the last person they want to see.

But he finds a family of new voters standing near the safe at OneValley Bank and spends 10 minutes with them, talking about his plans for early reading initiatives and for a $1,000-per-child tax credit to be used on school supplies.

Before he's done in Lovingston, he'll have shaken hands with 40 shoppers and visited six businesses.

His message is always the same stronger defense, better schools, lower taxes.

Next it's on to Barr Labs in Bedford County a business he helped recruit to the state when he was governor from 1994 to 1998.

The visit is more a celebration of Barr's success than a campaign visit, though it doesn't hurt that the company chairman tells the workers gathered for ice cream sundaes and handshakes that all 160 jobs there are due to Mr. Allen's salesmanship.

He'll repeat that again the next day at the G.E. Financial Assurance building in Lynchburg, where there are 750 workers.

But those are suit coat appearances. Mr. Allen is always on the lookout for an event where he can leave the coat behind.

Upon arriving at the "What a Blessing Bakery and Deli," his stop in Amherst, he's thrilled to see the crowd. "I don't reckon I need a coat here. These folks are normal people," he says.

In the same shopping center, he visits the Ace hardware store, shaking hands and fielding complaints about health care from one shopper.

Then he meets the owner, who says she's happy to have him in the store and lets him put his campaign brochures on the counter.

Then he asks her, "Do you want a bumper sticker? Will you actually use one? I hate to waste one."

The things cost a few pennies each. The owner seems reluctant. So he doesn't give her a sticker.

A penny saved… .

Before making it big as an NFL football coach, Mr. Allen's father worked odd jobs to make ends meet. Mr. Allen took upon himself the job of enforcing frugality, making sure his brothers and sister cleaned their plates or saved the food for later. He hated waste.

The same went for his term as governor.

He sold the state yacht and helicopter and famously implemented a policy to remove Solitaire from state computers so employees couldn't waste time playing games.

On the RV, staffers know to keep the door shut at all times, even while idling at a stop. Save the air conditioning, Mr. Allen says. And he's watching.

Mr. Allen won the governorship in 1993 after trailing in polls by a dozen points four months before the election the same time left in this race. This time around, he's got a slight lead.

He left office very popular, and having achieved many of his major objectives everything but his tax-relief plan, really.

But unseating a senator is very difficult, and running for senator is different from running for governor.

As governor, Mr. Allen set the legislative agenda he lists the abolition of parole, strict school standards, welfare reform and a parental-notification provision for minors seeking an abortion as his most satisfying successes.

At the beginning of the summer it almost looked like Mr. Allen was running for executive office again, rolling out policy speech after policy speech.

"I like being able to say 'This is what I'm going to do.' You're the whole branch of government yourself," Mr. Allen acknowledged.

As senator, though, he'd just be one of 535 votes spread across two chambers and 50 states.

An incumbent like Mr. Robb, who has won two Senate elections, is already comfortable running as a legislator rather than an executive.

But Mr. Allen says it's not a big leap.

"As a U.S. senator you can say 'Here, I'll vote this way' and with some of these issues like partial-birth abortion, that vote will matter. Flag burning amendment, that vote will matter," he said.

"The same principles apply. If you trust people and you stick to your principles, you analyze whatever the issue is in accordance with those principles," Mr. Allen said.

He sums those up in one sentence:

"If somebody pays taxes, if they work for a living, if they care about their families in their own hearts and in their own minds, they're going to be on our side," he says.

Tuesday morning, the crew arrives five minutes ahead of schedule at WLNI, a Lynchburg radio station.

The door is wide open. The two show anchors are on the air, and the third guy, who screens calls, does the sports and would have been there to greet the campaign is out sick.

Mr. Allen and his two aides walk in, and someone leaves the door open.

Mr. Allen notices.

"Close the door. Save their air conditioning."

Mr. Allen is on the case.

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