Republican George Allen scored a big-time endorsement Thursday in his U.S. Senate campaign in Virginia, winning the support of Florida senator and conservative rock star Marco Rubio.
"It's not just for the state of Virginia that we need George Allen, although that's clearly important," Mr. Rubio said at a small flower shop in Arlington Thursday morning. "It's also for the country. Because we are literally, on issue after issue, one or two or three votes away from being able to make a difference."
Mr. Allen, who handily defeated three challengers in a primary on Tuesday, will square off against Democrat Tim Kaine, a fellow former Virginia governor, in the general election.
The endorsement from Mr. Rubio, a Cuban-American who rode a wave of tea party enthusiasm to victory in 2010, could help galvanize critical Latino support for Mr. Allen, whose 2006 campaign infamously derailed after he referred to an Indian-American volunteer for Sen. Jim Webb as "macaca," considered by many to be a racial slur. Mr. Allen has apologized repeatedly for the remark, but he nevertheless faces a tough task in winning over minority voters, who voted overwhelmingly for President Obama in 2008.
Former Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Virginia Republican who served in the U.S. House from 1995 to 2008, said that while the politics of Northern Virginia haven't changed much since then, the way some candidates run now — with over-the-top demonizing of illegal immigrants or bashing the federal government — is "less appetizing" for a lot of area residents.
"This is a diverse state now," Mr. Davis said. "I think the day[s] of Republicans running three middle-aged white guys in the state are numbered. We have a great message, but we need different messengers."
Mr. Rubio could be one of them, depending on how actively he campaigns for presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Mr. Allen in the state. Mr. Rubio has been frequently touted as a potential vice-presidential pick because of his conservative bona fides and his background, but demurred on that speculation Thursday.
"I think you need to understand that Americans of Hispanic descent, in their hopes and aspirations, are no different than anybody else in this country," he said. "In fact, I would say that what's most pronounced in the Hispanic community across America, and I would venture to say in Virginia as well, is the desire — the desperate desire — to leave your children better off than yourself."
Tito Munoz, who owns a construction company in Prince William County and rose to brief fame after being dubbed "Tito the Builder" by John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008, echoed those sentiments.
"I don't think we have to 'win' the Hispanic vote," said Mr. Munoz, who hails from Colombia. "I think it will be ours when they hear our message. Hispanics don't come to the United States to beg for anything. I'm going to work very hard in the Northern Virginia community, especially among the Hispanic community, to make sure they know that George Allen is a friend of them."
Jeff Frederick, a former state delegate and state Republican Party chairman, saw things a bit differently.
"I can't say that he had a problem with minorities in general before," said Mr. Frederick, the first Latino elected to the Virginia state legislature. "Minorities aren't monolithic, much less Hispanics. People will judge that on its own merit. My opinion is I don't think that's the biggest problem with George Allen. His record is the biggest problem."
And what of Mr. Rubio's endorsement?
"I think Rubio's being a good team player," he said, laughing. "At this point, when the race is between two people, it just becomes a numbers thing. It's not rocket science."
But Arlington County School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez said Mr. Allen has not exactly been a friend to the Latino community.
"In his re-election campaign, he's shown that he would employ exactly the same policies that hurt our businesses, our children, and our communities," she said. "It is clear that Latinos in Virginia cannot trust George Allen to find common ground to solve our fiscal or immigration challenges because he derailed progress at every turn the last time he was in Washington. We simply can't afford another repeat performance from George Allen."
Regardless, Mr. Davis said the increasingly diverse Northern Virginia region is up for grabs for both men at this point.
"Allen always did pretty well with African-Americans for a Republican," he said. "There will certainly be ethnics up here who are voting for Romney and may end up going for Kaine. So who knows?"
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