- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

When Virginia legislators gathered around Gov. George Allen’s kitchen table in 1994 and told the Republican they thought eliminating parole would never work, he dismissed their skepticism in plain terms: “Nothing’s impossible.”

It was that attitude and his work as governor that made national Republicans take notice and begin considering Mr. Allen, now a U.S. senator, as a 2008 presidential contender.

Mr. Allen, seeking a second term on Nov. 7, had hoped accomplishments such as parole abolition would define his candidacy and secure an easy re-election. Instead, calling an Indian-American staffer for Democratic challenger James H. Webb Jr. “macaca” this summer thrust the race into the national spotlight and made it a neck-and-neck contest.

“All this stuff he did as governor, it’s absolutely unbelievable,” said Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax Republican, who recalled the kitchen meeting. “But no one ever knows anything about that because all they hear about is ‘macaca.’ ”

Mr. Allen has apologized and says he made up the word, adding he never would have used it had he known it was considered a racial slur in some cultures.

Still, the incident set in motion a chain of events that have kept the cowboy-boot-wearing Mr. Allen below 50 percent in the polls, despite his past popularity in Virginia and a more-than-20-year political career.

Some of Mr. Allen’s former football teammates at the University of Virginia told reporters that as a young man he regularly used racial slurs to describe blacks, but Mr. Allen, 54, says the “N-word” was never part of his vocabulary, and most teammates say they never heard him use the term.

The tobacco-chewing senator is often teased for making too many football references during legislative speeches, but says the game has shaped his governing philosophy.

Mr. Allen says his father, the late famed Redskins coach George H. Allen, taught him the four “F’s” — faith, freedom, family and football.

Among those football lessons: “Get knocked down, get back up,” and a player’s ability to “catch, kick, punt or long snap” is more important than his background.

“You don’t care about [players’] race, religion, their ethnicity, what college they went to,” Mr. Allen says. “You care about whether they can help the team win. [Football is] a true meritocracy, where everyone has that equal opportunity to compete and succeed, based upon their own hard work, diligence and capabilities. That’s what we should aspire to in our society.”

That theory has led to Mr. Allen’s own trademarked brand of politicking — “commonsense Jeffersonian conservatism.”

He says the ideals include limited government, low taxes and improving education to keep the United States globally competitive.

This year is the first time Mr. Allen, a former state lawmaker and congressman, has had to run a major race as the establishment candidate instead of as a reformer. That style helped him unseat two-term Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb in 2000.

Most Virginians remember Mr. Allen for his gubernatorial record — parole abolition, welfare reform and working with a Democrat-controlled state legislature to create nationally recognized education standards.

His good-natured public disposition and record have attracted national attention and prompted 215 Washington insiders to choose him in an April 2005 National Journal poll as the most likely 2008 Republican presidential nominee.

Supporters lauded his “Reagan-like” appeal and said he was one of few Southern politicians with “the experience and charisma to become a national candidate.”

But 177 Republican and Democratic insiders in a recent National Journal poll agreed that he has run the worst campaign of any Senate candidate this fall.

“This one-time presidential wannabe has ushered himself off the national stage, and he will be lucky to win re-election,” one Republican said. “Should have been a slam dunk in Virginia.”

Mr. Allen further complicated his re-election bid when he said a reporter asking about his Jewish heritage was making “aspersions.” The next day, he acknowledged his maternal grandfather was Jewish.

Mr. Allen says he learned to be tough by spending summers on a cattle ranch as a young man. While there, he learned the Western way with horses, “breaking them fast and hard in the mud and sand,” and an Eastern way, with “a cube of sugar and an apple.”

He was employing the Western way when he said of the Democrats who controlled the legislature in the 1990s: “Let’s enjoy knocking their soft teeth down their whiny throats.”

Mr. Allen’s younger sister, Jennifer, in her 2000 book “Fifth Quarter,” portrays her oldest brother as a bully unafraid of roughing up his siblings.

Passages from the book are often cited as examples of Mr. Allen’s character, but critics usually don’t mention his sister’s depiction of him as a star student, or that he set out a chair in honor of his late father at his gubernatorial inauguration.

Mr. Allen has dismissed the questions of his character as a liberal smear and says if the election is decided on the issues and his record, he will beat Mr. Webb, 60, a decorated Vietnam veteran and former secretary of the Navy under President Reagan.

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