- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sen. George Allen, his re-election campaign bruised from a month of gaffes and setbacks, is on the defensive and on the attack.

Conservatives are frustrated with the Virginia Republican who once seemed an optimal choice for a 2008 White House bid and say he’s given free publicity to his Democratic opponent James H. Webb Jr.

“This hasn’t been the campaign he expected to run, to be sure,” said former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican.

Still, Mr. Gilmore thinks Mr. Allen will win re-election if he can keep the conversation focused on the successful conservative record he built as governor in the 1990s, such as abolishing parole, reforming the welfare system and creating educational standards that have received national accolades.

“Our Republican Party has got to get its message straight, and we have to go back to our conservative roots,” Mr. Gilmore said.

Mr. Allen, a longtime favorite son of Virginia politics, is not used to playing defense. As the son of famed NFL coach George Allen, he played quarterback at the University of Virginia. He later ran successful political campaigns as a change agent, someone who would bring “positive ideas” to reform government and challenge the status quo.

But now, he’s spent a month apologizing for calling an Indian-American man “macaca” and for his past display of the Confederate flag.

Conservative blogger Dean Barnett issued a scathing review of a recent “Meet the Press” debate between Mr. Allen and Mr. Webb.

“For conservatives wishing for Allen to retain his seat, their best hope is that Virginians were otherwise occupied this morning or that the state’s NBC outlets were having technical difficulties,” he wrote on the blog hughhewitt.townhall.com, calling the senator’s performance “dreadful.”

Mr. Barnett called Mr. Webb a “nimble and effective” debater and said he is baffled by Mr. Allen’s choice to attackMr. Webbfor an article he wrote in 1979 questioning the role of women in the military.

Mr. Allen’s campaign has hammered Mr. Webb, with support from female Naval Academy graduates who say the article encouraged sexual harassment. Mr. Barnett said Mr. Allen is acting like a liberal.

The senator defended his argument last week on Fox News, saying, “It’s not an issue of women in combat. It’s an issue of how you treat women.”

Mr. Allen has repeatedly told voters that he “made a mistake” by using the word “macaca,” which he says he made up. It is considered a racial slur in some European cultures.

After that incident, Mr. Allen told a group of educators from historically black colleges and universities that he regretted not learning earlier in life that the Confederate flag was a racist symbol.

Many who know Mr. Allen think the multiple apologies are odd, because he is not a man who apologizes for speaking his mind.

As governor, he said to fellow Republicans about Democrats controlling the state legislature: “Let’s enjoy knocking their soft teeth down their whiny throats.”

At a debate last week hosted by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Allen lashed out at a television reporter who asked whether he had Jewish heritage, saying such “aspersions” had no place in the debate.

However, Mr. Allen, who was raised a Christian, later revealed that his mother’s father was Jewish and said she told him for the first time earlier this year.

“Allen has been on the defensive now for more than a month, and that’s not where an incumbent who had a double-digit lead should be,” said Mark J. Rozell, a political science professor at George Mason University.

When Mr. Allen started his re-election tour, he held a 20-point lead and promised voters that he would work to strengthen the U.S. border and make the federal tax cuts permanent. He now has a lead of a few points in most polls.

Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform said Mr. Allen should run on the fiscal conservatism that helped him gain record popularity as governor.

“He’s got a very solid record in Virginia,” Mr. Norquist said. “Allen has run as a person who won’t raise your taxes, and he’s voted against tax cuts in every case.”

Republican activist Tucker Watkins in Southside Virginia said Mr. Allen will be OK because the Virginia voters have long memories. “He’s been here over and over since he was governor, and he never forgets what he promised us,” Mr. Watkins said.

Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.



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