- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

Sen. George Allen finds it hard to separate politics from football.

Ask Virginia’s junior senator about his first campaign, and he quickly turns the conversation to what his father, Washington Redskins coach George Allen, told him when he won his first election in 1981.

“My father said, ‘… This is better than beating Dallas.’ And when he said that, I knew that meant something to him, knowing how much he detested the Dallas Cowboys in those days,” says Mr. Allen, 53.

He is quick to point out that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones “is a good friend” and former quarterback Roger Staubach “is a supporter, these days.”

The Republican senator has been traveling the country raising funds for his re-election bid next year — and quelling speculation about running for president in 2008. But football, either as a metaphor or the actual game, never strays far from his thoughts.

For Mr. Allen, himself a high school and college quarterback, football is a way of life — football and cattle ranching, that is.

As a University of Virginia law school student in the 1970s, Mr. Allen spent his summers working ranches near Winnemucca, Nev., where he learned how to shoe horses and drive a herd.

One of his toughest lessons was going all day without a drink of water. He almost blacked out, but a seasoned cowboy taught him that, if you drink at the beginning of the day, you can go the rest of it without any water.

“Football and that proved that you can push yourself and survive it,” he says. “If you put your mind to it, you can do anything.”

Though it was a brief period in his life, Mr. Allen hasn’t outgrown his cowboy days. He sports cowboy boots as part of his regular attire and enjoys chewing tobacco. Among the dozens of editorial cartoons on the walls of his office are Reaganesque pictures of him atop horses.

And his life lessons from ranching and football have served him well, he says, especially in politics.

He lost his first race for office in 1979, and won the House of Delegates seat in 1981 by just a handful of votes. He hasn’t lost a race since — serving one term in the U.S. House of Representatives and one as governor of Virginia.

The gubernatorial race was fierce, and at one point he was “flat broke” and 31 points behind.

“But I ended up sticking to it, keep putting one foot in front of the other. That’s the sort of thing you learn buckarooing, just keep the horse moving, just keep moving, or football practices, just keep moving,” he says. “So long as they don’t kill you, you can keep fighting.”

Former Delegate C. Richard “Dickie” Cranwell of Roanoke, a longtime Democratic leader, remembers serving with Mr. Allen in the House of Delegates.

“He was an exceptionally astute political operative, but no better than a ‘C’ in civics,” says Mr. Cranwell, now chairman of the state party.

Mr. Allen’s 2000 Senate win resembled a “Hail Mary” pass, but he beat Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb, also a former governor, receiving 52 percent of the vote to Mr. Robb’s 48 percent.

Now seeking re-election, Mr. Allen says his fundraising efforts outside the state are intended not to distract from Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore’s campaign this year.

Virginia Democrats do not yet have a candidate, but former Lt. Gov. Donald S. Beyer is considering a run against Mr. Allen.

Mr. Cranwell says Mr. Beyer, who lost a gubernatorial bid in 1997, would stand a “good chance” at winning.

Meanwhile, recent polls show that Gov. Mark Warner would beat Mr. Allen for his seat in 2006 if the election were held today. However, Mr. Warner, a Democrat likely to seek the presidency himself, is widely considered unlikely to run for the Senate.

“We’re getting prepared for whoever they throw at us,” says Mr. Allen, the former quarterback.

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