RICHMOND — Polls, pundits and the press all see Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary is little more than a partisan coronation for former Sen. George Allen.
Mr. Allen’s three lesser-known primary rivals — all running to his right on issues of federal spending and debt — dispute the coronation. Each contends they will rock Virginia politics by unifying conservatives against Democrat Tim Kaine in November’s election for retiring one-term Sen. Jim Webb’s seat.
Tea party leader Jamie Radtke says conservatives across the state have quietly come to accept her claim that Allen is a GOP disaster-in-waiting if he’s nominated because Democrat Tim Kaine will batter him as a free-spending hypocrite during his earlier Senate term, just as she has for months. Kaine is unopposed for his party’s nomination.
“It’s insane to keep electing the same officials who created the mess,” said Ms. Radtke, who claims Mr. Allen was part of a fully Republican Congress during George W. Bush’s Republican presidency that spent liberally and ran up record deficits a decade ago.
She accurately notes Mr. Allen’s role in passing tens of thousands of spending earmarks while he was in the Senate, and Allen himself has publicly concede that spending then was out of control. The more than 50,000 specifically funded pet projects enacted during that time, however, were buried in massive federal budgets and appropriations bills that were before Congress, not individual measures.
Delegate Bob Marshall and Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson, who’ve been less directly abrasive toward the front-runner, say their election day surprise will come with the intensity of their quiet, ardent armies of conservative backers.
“Any one of these candidates could be a U.S. senator, but the question I pose is, ‘Which is the right person for this moment in history?’ and I believe that many are concluding that the right person for this time is me,” said Mr. Jackson, who will spend the primary’s final Sunday appealing for votes from other preachers’ pulpits, not his own.
Mr. Marshall, the General Assembly’s foremost tail gunner for anti-abortion, anti-gay and gun rights, said he’s banking on determined backing from resolute religious conservatives in a very low-turnout primary.
“Every race I’ve run, I’ve had people who are very dedicated. I’ve not had the money, but I’ve had the dedicated volunteers,” Mr. Marshall said.
Tuesday, however, is the first time Mr. Marshall’s name has appeared on a ballot statewide. He came within a 65 delegate votes — a margin of less than 1 percentage point — of upsetting former Gov. Jim Gilmore for the 2008 GOP Senate nomination in 2008’s bitterly contested state GOP convention.
Mr. Allen said he also worries that supporters sure of his victory might neglect voting, potentially validating Mr. Marshall’s scenario.
“My biggest concern is complacency,” Mr. Allen said. “Folks have to get out and vote and not say, ‘Gosh, he’s got it made,’ or ‘It’s raining, we don’t need to vote.’”
“When somebody says, ‘Aw, you’ve got it made,’ I don’t like to hear that,” he said.
A Washington Post poll last month showed likely primary voters favoring Mr. Allen over the rest of the field by nearly a 2-to-1 ratio. Sixty-two percent supported Mr. Allen compared to 12 percent for Mr. Marshall, 5 percent for Ms. Radtke and 3 percent for Mr. Jackson. The newspaper surveyed 1,101 adults, including 964 registered voters
Mr. Allen’s lopsided edge in money, connections, organization and name recognition are not on the underdogs’ side. Nor is history.
• Of the nearly $7.6 million all four remaining Republican candidates have received through May 23, Mr. Allen’s take of $6.7 million accounts for nearly 90 percent of it. Of the more than $4.8 million the four have collectively spend in the primary, 82 percent came from Mr. Allen. Mr. Allen had more than $2.7 million in the bank for the primary’s final three weeks compared with just $82,295 for the other three combined.
• Mr. Allen, whose election as governor in 1993 began an eight-year Republican renaissance in Virginia, has brought important GOP figures off the sidelines before the primary: the Republican governor and lieutenant governor, and U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
• The collection of political pros and longtime personal advisers who guided Mr. Allen’s victorious gubernatorial and 2000 U.S. Senate bids, are back at his side, reconnected with the local GOP networks of old.
• He hasn’t beaten himself. Having learned painful lessons from the chaotic, gaffe-strewn failure of his 2006 re-election loss, Mr. Allen has been disciplined and cautious in public this time, just as he was in earlier victories. His shoot-from-the-lip approach then produced his “macaca” moment, when online video of him disparaging an American-born Webb campaign aide of Indian descent at a rally derailed a political career that many Republicans felt had presidential potential.
Much of the credit for that comes from the heavy and conspicuous role of his wife, Susan Allen, who keeps him focused. She was largely invisible and had little input until the desperate late stages of his losing campaign against Webb.
“She’s a pretty good coach,” said Mr. Allen, namesake son of the late Hall of Fame Washington Redskins coach. “And mostly, I listen to her.”