Although a recent Roll Call/Survey USA poll showed him to be at least competitive in a hypothetical matchup against the juggernaut that is ex-Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D), former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) said last week that he is “definitely not interested” in a Senate run in 2008.
But Allen is contemplating a return to electoral politics in 2009, when he could try to reclaim the Virginia governor’s mansion that he left a decade ago as the state’s unique re-election law requires.
During a break at an event he moderated for the State Government Leadership Foundation at the National Press Club last week, Allen acknowledged that “many people are encouraging me to run” again for governor, but he said that for now, at least, he’s “simply listening” and has not made up his mind.
Since losing his re-election campaign to now-Sen. Jim Webb (D) in a race that was so close that Allen did not concede until two days after Election Day — giving control of the Senate to the Democrats — the son of Washington Redskins coaching legend George Allen has started a consulting firm called George Allen Strategies LLC. He also has been hired as the Young America’s Foundation Reagan Ranch presidential scholar, which has allowed him to give talks on college campuses, write opinion pieces and promote the ideas of the conservative political group.
On the side, Allen also runs his own blog where he touts Republican candidates, writes dispatches from his family road trips and posts his weekly football picks.
At 55, Allen certainly is a young man in political terms, but a comeback would be intriguing because of just how far he fell during the 2006 election. At the outset, Allen was expected to glide to re-election en route to a highly anticipated run for president in 2008. But his campaign took a turn for the worse after his now infamous “macaca” statement. After that, Allen went through a brutal summer where he repeatedly had to fight off charges of long-running racial insensitivity, before being voted out of office.
But one Virginia Democratic strategist said last week that Allen’s negative perception in the state was high even before the final months of the campaign.
“There was a lot of people that just didn’t think he was doing a very good job as a Senator,” the strategist said. “He was so out front for [President] Bush and he was probably doing that because he was running for president [at that time] and he wanted to appeal to those people and I think it hurt him.”
But the Democratic strategist was not ready to put the nail in Allen’s political coffin.
“In this business the only time you know somebody is dead is when they lose an election, but then they are dead for that moment,” the strategist said.
John Hager, the chairman of the Virginia Republican Party and a former lieutenant governor, said he hopes Allen returns to the political arena.
“I think he’s very popular,” Hager said. “I think he’s been very thoughtful about the challenges he had in the Senate race when he lost and he’s taken that into account as he’s moved around the state and moved around the country. … He’s getting his feet on the ground and enjoying his family and reflecting on what happened, and I think he’ll be a better man for it. And if he wants to run he’ll be a great candidate.”
Allen said any formal decision on his political future will not come for some time as most of his energy is focused on the 2008 presidential campaign. In mid-November, Allen was named a co-chairman of former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson’s (R) presidential bid, and last week he said the national election will have major implications on the commonwealth’s open Senate seat battle to replace retiring Sen. John Warner (R).
Allen said Thompson, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) — in that order — would all play well in Virginia and that their presence at the top of the ticket would help Republicans downballot. Meanwhile, Allen echoed the sentiment held by many state Republicans that if Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) becomes the Democratic presidential nominee, then Mark Warner’s Senate campaign will be hurt by having the polarizing Clinton name at the top of the ticket.
“I don’t think she’ll play well in Virginia,” Allen said.
But it certainly appears that Republicans will need all the help they can get against Mark Warner. After the popular and wealthy former governor entered the Senate race this fall, an automated poll conducted in early November by SurveyUSA for Roll Call showed Virginians favoring Warner by 22 points over ex-Gov. Jim Gilmore, the current frontrunner for the Republican nomination. (That same poll showed Warner leading 52 percent to 42 percent in a hypothetical matchup with Allen.)
But though he said he’d support whomever turns out to be the Republican Senate nominee, Allen said he’s not so sure the GOP primary field won’t grow.
“It’s a long way to 2008,” he said.