- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2012

All four Virginia Republican U.S. Senate candidates will square off Saturday afternoon in Roanoke in the first of three debates organized by the state party — none of which are being televised or held at times that will likely draw significant attention from either the media or the electorate.

That format could stand to benefit front-runner George Allen, who has little to gain from sharing a stage with three candidates nipping at his heels before the June 12 primary.

Mr. Allen, a former governor and U.S. senator who remains a popular political heavyweight, will be joined by former head of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation Jamie Radtke, charismatic Chesapeake Bishop E.W. Jackson, and staunch conservative Delegate Robert G. Marshall of Prince William.

Mr. Marshall narrowly missed out on snatching the GOP Senate nomination from former Gov. James S. Gilmore III at the party convention in 2008.

The second debate is scheduled for May 11, a Friday, at 6:30 p.m. in Virginia Beach, while the third is also on a Friday, May 25, at 6:30 p.m. in Falls Church. Both the later debates are in a time range when politicians typically release information they hope will receive minimal attention, since people are less likely to glance at the news on Saturday than the rest of the week.

The debate schedule was set up as such, though, because the RPV wanted people to be able to attend in person, according to a party official.

Ms. Radtke said she fought against the debate schedule because she thought the media would be less inclined to pay attention.

She said the media wants to “write the story ahead of time on how the campaign is going to unfold.”

“Last time I checked, there’s no one doing live broadcast of the debate,” she said. “The narrative continues to be that it’s a prewritten story, and it’s not worth covering.”

Dan Allen,a senior adviser to Mr. Allen who is not related to the candidate, said the campaign sees the debate as an opportunity to continue talking about issues the former governor has been focused on, such as energy costs and high gas prices, as more people start turning their attention to the primary.

“We’re certainly not going to be taking anything for granted over the next several weeks, heading into the primary,” he said.

Mr. Marshall said he wasn’t fazed by the schedule, but was nonplussed by the rule for Saturday that only credentialed news media will be allowed to record audio or video of the event.

“That is a little puzzling to me,” he said.

The RPV will record each debate and distribute copies to the campaigns immediately afterward.

Mr. Jackson said he hasn’t given the format much thought. He complimented the party for recognizing that all four candidates deserved a spot on the stage and hasn’t seen any hint of an “establishment conspiracy” in his travels around the state.

“A Republican primary is a family affair,” said Mr. Jackson, a former Marine and Harvard Law School graduate. “I intend to be myself. I’m not a creature of politics. I’m not packaged; I don’t try to figure out what people want to hear. I say what’s in my heart.”

As for the reportedly inevitable nomination of Mr. Allen, Mr. Jackson responded with a story from a Hanover Republican meeting, where he was greeted by an Allen supporter.

“After I spoke, that same individual came up to me and said, ‘You changed my mind,’ ” he said. He received a check for $500 from the person soon afterward.

But Mr. Marshall said the “outsider” label cuts both ways.

“Two people don’t have a record, and one has a record he has to be nervous about, in part,” he said. “George has to hope that Republicans forgive him, but they forgave Richard Nixon, so that’s possible.”

Nevertheless, a Rasmussen poll released this week showed Mr. Allen with a statistically insignificant 46 percent to 45 percent lead over Mr. Kaine, with just 4 percent of those polled preferring another candidate in the race and 5 percent undecided.

Mr. Allen also enjoys a significant financial advantage over his primary opponents. He has raised nearly $6 million and had nearly $2.66 million on hand at the end of the first quarter, much more than the other three Republican candidates combined.

But Mr. Jackson said that any of the four would be more than capable of representing Virginia.

“The question is, ‘Who is the right person at this point in history?’ ” he said. “Obviously, I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think I was that person.”

The winner of the primary will square off against former Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, in the fall election.