If former Sen. George Allen tries to reclaim his Senate seat in Virginia, it would pit him against the man who defeated him, Sen. Jim Webb, in the marquee Senate matchup of 2012 — if Mr. Allen can win his own party’s nomination.
The former congressman, governor and senator said he’s talking the decision over with his family and will announce “soon” whether he’ll run, though he said he’s receiving strong encouragement from Republicans across the state.
“The point of all of this is that folks are saying get back in the game, and that’s what folks are encouraging me and Susan to do, and the campaign that we would mount in the event that we mounted a campaign would be a good, grass-roots insurgency,” he told The Washington Times. “You learn a lot from losing. I don’t like losing, but you learn a lot.”
Still, other Virginia Republicans say he’ll first have to get past a divided primary electorate that some in the GOP say has moved beyond Mr. Allen’s glory years as governor in the 1990s.
“George Allen is part of the problem, not the solution. He is the Brett Favre of politics,” said Corey Stewart, the Republican chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and a possible Senate candidate himself, who called for “some new blood and new leadership.”
For his part, Mr. Allen has already taken shots at Mr. Webb, including the Democrat’s vote in favor of a bill to allow first responders to unionize, which would contravene Virginia’s right-to-work laws, and his vote earlier this month in favor of ending the filibuster on a bill to legalize hundreds of thousands of illegal-immigrant children and young adults.
For nearly 15 years, Mr. Allen was the heavyweight of Virginia politics, having won the governor’s mansion in 1993, then unseated two-term incumbent Sen. Charles S. Robb in 2000. He was even thought to be considering a run for president in 2008.
But in a major clash that helped determine control of the Senate in 2006, Mr. Allen lost his own re-election bid to Mr. Webb, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran who, while a newcomer to electoral politics, erased a 30-percentage-point deficit in the polls to beat Mr. Allen.
Mr. Webb is also considering his next step, a spokesman said.
“Sen. Webb is looking to address his intentions regarding the 2012 election cycle in the first quarter of next year after discussing it with his family over the holidays,” said spokesman Will Jenkins.
In his four years in office, Mr. Webb has generally voted with Democrats, including on this month’s repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay troops and on the immigration vote. Still, he has broken ranks recently on several spending matters.
Mr. Jenkins said that throughout his tenure, his boss has a track record that shows he has remained committed to the principles of economic fairness and good governance that helped propel him into office.
In 2008, he ushered through a landmark GI Bill that increased education benefits to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After the legislative victory, the Atlantic dubbed him “Master of the Senate.”
But Mr. Allen said Mr. Webb has voted against Virginia’s interests when he sided with Democrats on union issues, President Obama’s health care overhaul and economic votes.
“In looking at the Senate race, every vote counts in Washington. So many of these — stimulus, bailouts, the health care monstrosity — things that I think are harmful to Virginians, have passed by one vote,” he said.
For Mr. Allen, the path to a rematch could be complex.
“Right now, he is the front-runner, and if he can consolidate the party, he will be the nominee,” said former Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Republican.
But Mr. Davis and others warn that consolidating the party will be easier said than done after a campaign season in which the “tea party” movement swept lawmakers into office who repudiated many of the policies enacted during Mr. Allen’s tenure, when Republicans ran both chambers of Congress.
Mr. Allen, though, said tea partiers should feel comfortable with him since he’s been talking about limited-government principles and the Constitution for years. His catchphrase during his various runs for office has been that he’s a “common-sense Jeffersonian conservative.”
“I can talk about the 10th Amendment and people will actually know what I’m talking about,” he said. “I think it’s wonderful.”
Mr. Allen would likely take a lead into the primary, thanks to statewide name recognition. But he still could fall prey to a conservative challenger, such as state Delegate Robert G. Marshall, who nearly won a state-convention bid to be the party’s 2008 Senate nominee over another former governor, James S. Gilmore III.
Mr. Marshall, a conservative favorite who represents part of Prince William County, touts some high-profile victories, including sponsoring the bill that challenged the federal government’s authority to mandate that every legal resident purchase health insurance.
Meanwhile, Mr. Stewart is also seen as scouting a run, and he said Mr. Allen is a reminder of the days when Republicans strayed.
“We’ve got to bring in some new blood and new leadership and quit reaching back into the past,” he said. “Republicans did a terrible job between 2000 and 2006, just as foolishly as the Democrats did. They were part of the problem, and they remain part of the problem.”
Mr. Allen said he’s always considered Mr. Stewart a friend and said he appreciated compliments Mr. Stewart made about Mr. Allen’s time as governor.
Indeed, observers have long painted Mr. Allen as a more successful executive than legislator, and he chafed against the slow pace of the Senate. He still says the Senate has “too much worshipping of process and personalities.” But he said with all the problems that have built up, people are finally expecting action out of Congress, and that’s something he can be part of.
He said his longtime support for a balanced-budget amendment and a line-item veto for the president could help pare the federal deficit. And though he submitted earmark requests in the past, he came out earlier this year against the practice.
Mr. Webb does request earmarks, and voted against a proposed Senate ban earlier this year. Fellow Sen. Mark Warner, also a Democrat, voted for the ban.