Independents are the apples of Allen’s eye in Virginia race

Former senator fights for comeback

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George Allen, the odds-on favorite to win Virginia’s GOP Senate primary Tuesday, is already working feverishly to win over the coveted independent vote for a high-stakes November matchup with Democrat Tim Kaine that will help determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate come January.

The former Virginia governor and U.S. senator wrapped up a two-week tour of the state Monday with an appearance at a Northern Virginia business with Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has stressed bipartisanship in his first 2 1/2 years in office and remains one of the nation’s most popular governors.

Capping off the tour by appearing with the Virginia governor, who despite a contentious General Assembly session has retained support across the political spectrum, underscores the notion that Mr. Allen has been steeling for a general election fight since he entered the race in January 2011.

George Allen has kept his eye on the general election and has avoided saying anything or making decisions that could come back to haunt him,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington. “That’s smart politics. One of the bigger problems facing Mitt Romney now is having to deal with all the more extreme things he said to get the Republican nomination. George Allen doesn’t have that problem.”

Still, Mr. Allen is quick to deny looking past Tuesday.

“It is vitally important that we take nothing for granted,” he told a crowd of about 100 at the technology company Prototype Productions Inc. on Monday. “I don’t care what the weather is tomorrow - it could be storming, raining, hail, sunny, hot, whatever it may be, we need your vote. We need to send a message.”

When asked what percentage would be sufficient to send that message, Mr. Allen, who frequently peppers his speeches and appearances with sports metaphors, quoted the late Al Davis, the former owner of the Oakland Raiders.

“Just win, baby,” he said. “The bigger the turnout, the stronger the message.”

The effusive Mr. Allen is eyeing what would be one of the more remarkable political comebacks in recent history. Unlike his undisciplined, gaffe-strewn re-election campaign in 2006, in which he narrowly lost to Democrat Jim Webb, Mr. Allen has stayed on message this time around.

He has largely ignored charges from both the right and the left that he was a willing enabler of Washington’s profligate spending during the two terms of President George W. Bush. He has also declined Democrats’ calls for him to take definitive stands on lightning-rod issues for the GOP - a measure Congress is weighing that is intended to make it easier for women to achieve pay equity, for example.

Instead, he has toured the state touting his tax cuts for small businesses, reining in federal regulations on carbon emissions, and championing a balanced-budget amendment and the line-item veto, as he did as a U.S. senator.

Mr. Allen holds a big-time name recognition and fundraising advantage over his three opponents - tea party leader Jamie Radtke, Delegate Robert G. Marshall of Prince William County and Chesapeake Bishop E.W. Jackson.

“When you have those two advantages, you have the luxury of worrying mainly about the general election,” Mr. Farnsworth said.

Mr. Allen’s recent appearances with Mr. McDonnell, a staunch social conservative who ran as a pragmatic, problem-solving job creator in 2009, speak to the importance of the approximately 10 percent of the electorate that’s undecided. Mr. Allen has been in a dead heat with Mr. Kaine, also a former Virginia governor, for virtually the entire race.

Mr. McDonnell on Monday noted that the political winds are much different now from what they were in 2006, when Mr. Allen and Republicans across the country suffered big losses amid a backlash against Mr. Bush and the Iraq War. After Virginia Democrats took control of the state Senate in 2007 and President Obama became the first Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson to carry Virginia in 2008, Republicans scored decisive gains in election cycles in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

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