Former GOP Sen. George Allen officially entered the race for his old Senate seat in Virginia on Monday, setting up a potential rematch with Democratic Sen. Jim Webb that could make the state a major political battleground in 2012.
Saying it was time for an "American comeback," Mr. Allen, a former governor as well as senator, becomes the presumptive front-runner in a GOP primary that already features a "tea party" candidate and potential bids from state Delegate Robert G. Marshall and Corey A. Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, who has called Mr. Allen a "mediocre" senator and has a national profile for his tough stance on illegal immigrants.
The Allen announcement focuses attention squarely on Mr. Webb, who has yet to confirm he will seek a second term. His fundraising efforts to date have been modest, and Mr. Webb has told supporters he will announce his plans in the next few months.
The Democrat has $471,000 in his campaign coffers and raised just $16,620 in the third quarter, fueling fresh questions about his interest in running for a second term. Former Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine, who is chairman of the Democratic National Committee and is seen as the party's best hope if Mr. Webb steps down, already has said he does not want to run.
The Allen announcement follows months of testing the waters across the state, including a stop at a statewide tea-party rally in October.
Mr. Allen must get state voters to move past his losing 2006 effort, a major upset sparked in part by an Allen comment on the campaign trail widely seen as an ethnic slur. He also is entering a changed political climate in which his past service in government and links to the previous GOP congressional majority are not always seen as assets.
"A lot of conservatives and tea-party members are disappointed with George Allen," Mr. Stewart said Monday. "But there's also an ambivalence among bread-and-butter voters, the [GOP] establishment and big-money donors about whether he's electable. They don't want to nominate somebody who cannot win a general election."
Mr. Allen also may vulnerable in a GOP primary because of his Senate record of support for President George W. Bush's proposed spending increases and No Child Left Behind federal education reform.
In his roughly three-minute video address designed to bolster his conservative credentials, Mr. Allen quoted Thomas Jefferson on the government not taking what Americans have earned and voicing support for balancing the budget and repealing and replacing Mr. Obama's new health care law.
John Brabender, of the GOP strategy firm BrabenderCox, said Mr. Allen can't win by running the same campaigns that succeeded in the past.
"There was an advantage 10 years ago to having experience and a record," Mr. Brabender said. "Now it seems to be a detriment."
He added that Mr. Allen "will have to rebrand himself and run a 2011-12-type campaign. Maybe losing [in 2006] was an intervention that will put him in a better place to return to the Senate and reform."
Still, Mr. Allen's appeals were not enough for Mr. Stewart.
"Jefferson would be rolling over in his grave if he heard Allen quote him," he said. "I'm seriously considering a run and am more serious every day."
Mr. Stewart said his qualifications go beyond his crackdown on illegal immigration, which has reduced violent crime in Prince William by 30 percent, including capping the county budget at 2007 levels.
Jamie Radtke, former leader of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots, already has challenged Mr. Allen to a series of town-hall-style debates and on Monday won the support of Erick Erickson, who oversees the influential conservative website redstate.com.
Miss Radtke welcomed Mr. Allen to the race, then accused him of making the same promises he made in 2000, including a balanced budget, reduced spending and lower federal debt.
She said voters want a "new generation of predictable, dependable conservative leaders" and called on Mr. Allen to explain his votes as a senator on such issues as the deficit, pork spending and gun control.
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