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Is Allen vulnerable?

An interesting political analysis in yesterday’s Washington Post by Robert Barnes on the upcoming Virginia Senate race between Republican George Allen and an as yet-to-be named Democrat.

Most people, including me, figured Allen to be invulnerable, but Barnes says the Dems have a chance, particularly with Allen perhaps taking his eye off the ball by testing the presidential waters.

It’s unfortunate that former Gov. Mark Warner did not have the fortitude to face Allen. That’s the race Virginians were entitled to and it would have been a great one. But Warner wussed out and pulled a Hillary Clinton and Al Gore, both of whom opted out of the 2004 hunt for the Democratic presidential nomination way too early, figuring Bush was invulnerable because of the country rallying around him in time of war. It turned out he was indeed vulnerable, but their cowardice left the field to the weaker candidates, guaranteeing Bush a second term.

While I’m of the belief that Warner would probably be the best possible candidate for president in a general election, it’s likely he could never win the Democratic nomination because he’s too mainstream for the extremists who dominate Democratic primary balloting.

Anyway, here’s Barnes’ piece…

Democrats See Allen’s Invincibility Cloak Loosening

By Robert Barnes

Wednesday, March 8, 2006; Page B05

RICHMOND, March 7 So all of a sudden, Virginia feels as if it has a Senate race.

It’s an odd one, to be sure. Republican Sen. George Allen so far has gotten more attention for his presidential aspirations than his reelection campaign. One Democrat running to replace him is a high-tech lobbyist who has little name recognition but money to spend, and the other Democrat’s political credentials in the Old Dominion include endorsing Allen six years ago.

The two Democrats, former Information Technology Association of America head Harris Miller and James Webb, a best-selling author and Reagan administration secretary of the Navy, will meet in what appears to be an unprecedented, three-month lightning round of a primary. By June 14, the party should have its man, and Democrats are hoping that, at the least, they can force Allen to spend more time in Danville than Des Moines.

Some are hoping for more than that. Six months ago, Democrats were just looking for someone who could make it a race against Allen and force him to spend some of the millions in his bank account. But Timothy M. Kaine’s relatively wide margin in his race for governor in November, as well as his strong showing in the before-then solidly Republican territories of Prince William and Loudoun counties, combined with President Bush’s diminishing approval ratings have some in the party daring to dream more boldly.

&uot;I think a lot of Democrats believe there is something going on out there&uot; among voters that is more fundamental, one Democratic operative says, than what some Republicans have dismissed as a well-run campaign from Kaine vs. a poor one from Republican rival Jerry W. Kilgore.

Kaine is among many Democrats who have a healthy respect for Allen’s political accomplishments — his resounding victory as governor in 1993 and his ability to knock off Sen. Charles S. Robb, the Democratic incumbent, in 2000 — and his natural abilities as a happy-warrior campaigner.

Still, &uot;from what I’ve seen from the polling, it will be tough to beat Allen, but he’s not invulnerable,&uot; Kaine said.

He and others believe that Bush’s low approval ratings have particular resonance in the suburbs of Northern Virginia and that Allen’s forays into the 2008 presidential race — he’s made trips to most of the influential early primary states and will be in Iowa for two days next week — could hurt.

&uot;I think that Virginians tend to punish people who are doing one thing but looking for the next thing,&uot; Kaine said. &uot;I think once you get past the Democratic primary, you’ll see that be a major theme.&uot;

Or maybe you won’t need to wait until then. Consultants to both Democrats are vying for more and more colorful ways to describe Allen’s balancing act — one talks about Allen campaigning via video-conference from Iowa, another comparing Allen with a job interviewee who keeps ducking out for coffee with someone else.

Allen’s chief of staff, Dick Wadhams, had no interest in discussing Allen’s presidential ambitions, saying only that he is a much &uot;sought-after Republican leader&uot; and that Allen accepts speaking engagements &uot;as we can.&uot;

Webb had his first moment in the limelight Tuesday and said that whether Allen is interested in running for president is &uot;irrelevant&uot; to him.

The 60-year-old former Marine has a complicated r\u00E9sum\u00E9 for die-hard Democratic voters to sort through: Republican Capitol Hill staffer; Reagan administration official; supporter of Robb against Oliver L. North in the Senate campaign of 1994; supporter of Allen against Robb in the Senate campaign of 2000. He has had kind words for those who fought for the Confederacy; unkind words for the Clinton administration, which he called &uot;corrupt&uot;; and now says that Allen has no accomplishments and that George W. Bush is no Ronald Reagan.

&uot;I am like a huge percentage of people in this country, where I’ve had trouble with both political parties over the years,&uot; he said. &uot;But when you look at the future . . . in my view, the answers to the problems in America come from the traditions of the Democratic Party.&uot;

Webb, who lives in Falls Church, took his time before deciding to join the race, egged on by a &uot;Draft Webb&uot; Web site on which followers post rhapsodic reviews of Webb’s military expertise and leadership potential.

While Webb was making up his mind, Miller jumped in, and the result is an interesting (for political junkies) split among the consultant class that has helped produce Virginia’s last two Democratic statewide victories.

Former governor Mark R. Warner took a break from his own potential presidential wanderings to attend a fundraiser for Miller on Tuesday night; aides say that Warner agreed to attend when Miller, of Fairfax County, was the only Democrat in the race and that his presence is not an endorsement. Miller’s team is led by consultant Mo Elleithee, who has worked for both Warner and Kaine, and his pollster is Geoffrey Garin, who polled for Warner.

Webb has enlisted Steve Jarding and David &uot;Mudcat&uot; Saunders, who made their names as the architects of the rural-urban strategy that got Warner elected in 2001, and his pollster is Peter Brodnitz, whom Kaine counted on to take the public’s pulse last year.

Miller’s supporters describe him as being in the moderate mold of Warner; more than one Democrat has said Webb’s candidacy is more intriguing but is &uot;high-risk, high-reward.&uot; For his part, Kaine says he’s glad that Democrats have enough candidates willing to take on the uphill battle against Allen to make a primary.