Former Virginia Gov. George Allen on Monday bolstered his conservative base and bid to become the GOP nominee in the state's U.S. Senate race with endorsements from three House Republicans, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Mr. Cantor, along with Reps. Bob Goodlatte and H. Morgan Griffith, endorsed Mr. Allen, who said he was "proud and grateful" for the support.
"We need senators who believe ... that the private sector is the engine of economic growth and job creation," Mr. Cantor said. "And we need senators who understand that we've got to reduce spending and get our fiscal house in order."
The backing of Mr. Cantor, who has emerged as a tea party hero and ardent foe of President Barack Obama during the recent federal debt-ceiling debate, could help sway voters who argue that Mr. Allen was part of the freewheeling spending in Washington during his first Senate term. Mr. Allen voted to raise the debt ceiling four times during that 2001-to-2007 term.
"There was some thought that Allen might have some trouble with [tea party candidate] Jamie Radtke and someone else in the field," said Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "But certainly if Eric Cantor thinks he's good enough for the nomination, he shouldn't have any trouble on his right."
Mr. Allen already has a huge lead in the polls and in fundraising over Ms. Radtke, his closest rival.
He leads 68 percent, compared to 6 percent for Ms. Radtke, according to an Aug. 2 survey of Virginia GOP primary voters by Public Policy Polling. And he has raised roughly $2.6 million, compared to about $250,000 for Ms. Radtke, according to federal filings in July.
Mr. Allen will likely face Democrat and former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine in the general election, which could be one of the most expensive and closely watched raced in 2012. The seat is now held by retiring Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, who narrowly defeated Mr. Allen in his 2006 re-election bid.
Mr. Kaine entered the race in April, about three months after Mr. Allen, but raised $2.25 million through the second quarter, which ended in June.
His campaign used Monday's endorsements to attack the record of Mr. Allen, also a former Virginia governor.
"I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if Reps. Cantor and Goodlatte were looking to endorse a 'small government' conservative, they've got the wrong guy," said Kaine campaign spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine. "The only candidate in this race with a record of cutting state spending and doing it in a way that protected Virginia's reputation as the best state for business is Tim Kaine."
The Radtke camp also criticized the endorsements.
"Given Jamie's principled stands and desire to rock the boat, it is no surprise that Washington insiders would choose one of their own to ensure business as usual," read a statement on her campaign website. "This Senate campaign will be about spending and the debt, and George Allen voted to raise the debt ceiling four times and added over $3 trillion to the debt. We can't afford more of the same."
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who was recently named Mitt Romney´s Virginia campaign chairman for 2012, is backing Mr. Allen.
But Gov. Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli have both indicated that they will withhold endorsements until after this fall's legislative elections in the state.
Mr. Kondik acknowledges thinking that Ms. Ratke or Northern Virginia TV mogul Tim Donner could pull off an upset should the anti-Allen vote get behind either of them.
"But it seems almost impossible now," he said.
Delegate Bob Marshall, Prince William Republican and one of the Virginia House's most conservative members, says he's still hearing from people who want him to throw his hat in the ring.
"I'm still considering that," he said. "I just have a delegate race to run first. I'm staying active. I'm reading a lot of books about the federal budget. I'm keeping my finger on things."
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David Sherfinski covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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