DV Archive

Decision Virginia Archive 8/08- 7/12

Five reasons George Allen has bucked the uprising

with 7 comments

It is now less than a week before voters go to the polls in Virginia primaries and the most marquee match up of them all has turned out to be anything but exciting. One time senator and governor George Allen will be on the ballot next Tuesday in a primary that his campaign has for the most part publically ignored. Despite a relentless attack from three conservative opponents, there is nothing that indicates that the primary vote will be anything but an easy day for Allen.

It is not from a lack of trying. Each of the candidates has the make up to mimic the kind of uprising that politicians like Allen have faced in other states. Establishment republican candidates like Sen. Dick Lugar in Indiana, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in Texas and Sen. Orrin Hatch in Utah have either lost primaries or been faced into difficult runoff elections or primary votes they were not expecting. Their difficult times are all the result of conservative/tea party support that has coalesced at the right time to push the establishment candidates in to a difficult position.

Despite having all the ingredients for the same type of scenario in Virginia, Allen has survived and arguably thrived as he coasts to the nomination, setting the stage for a one on one titanic showdown with fellow former Gov. Tim Kaine in November.

Why? I’ve come up with five reasons:

1- Divide and Conquer
The fatal mistake the conservative/tea party made came early in this primary campaign. They couldn’t come up with one candidate. By facing three other candidates, Allen has successfully split the loyalty of a small, but active group of voters that would have to be together in order to be successful. Del. Bob Marshall is a hero with social conservatives. Former Tea Party leader Jamie Radtke is popular with the libertarian, fiscally conservative wing (although she is socially conservative herself). Bishop E.W. Jackson is a talented speaker and is able to excite a crowd, but by battling two other challengers, he has been unable to gain any traction.

The lack of outsider unity in challenging the establishment is what drove businessman Tim Donner out of the race. It was something he told me last summer was a necessity in overcoming Allen’s immense natural advantages.

“It is clear that a single challenger to the establishment candidate George Allen will emerge in this race,” he said. He went on to say that if was not him he’d get out-of-the-way. “I will not do anything to impede the conservative movement, and impede the movement of grass-roots conservatives.”

Donner got out, but the other three candidates never came together, and he ended up endorsing Allen.

2- Securing the base
One thing George Allen never forgot about was his base. The base helped him get elected governor and senator and despite losing in 2006, they were still there for him in a losing effort. Allen knew that it was the base that would guarantee him the nomination in 2012.

While his opponents spent a lot of time reaching out to “non-traditional” political groups, like the tea party, Allen appeared at every traditional GOP event that would have him. Women Republican Club Teas, Golf outings for legislators seeking re-election, Congressional Committee meetings. If grassroots republicans were meeting, Allen was there. There was no meeting he was above and many of those still volunteering at these events were raised on his campaigns for governor and senator. They were all too happy to have him and continue to support him.

Allen’s rock solid support from the base was most evident when the influential righty blog Bearing Drift offered their formal endorsement Monday night.

3- Raising money
No matter how hard these candidates tried, there was just no possible way for them to overcome the ability of a former governor and senator to raise money. Money not just from Virginia but from across the country. The massive cash advantage allowed Allen to hire a great deal of full-time staff. It allowed him to travel the state with ease, build a state infrastructure and take away any type of advantage his opponents could hope to muster.

Granted, in the toppling of establishment candidates, the momentum of the movement overwhelmed significant cash advantages. But in Virginia that momentum never materialized and Allen was able to stifle any appearance of it with spending.

4- No high-profile endorsements
Or perhaps this should say.. “no high-profile endorsements of anyone but Allen”. Allen quickly gobbled up the endorsement of Gov. Bob McDonnell, Rep. Eric Cantor and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. He successfully (at least for now) kept the unpredictable Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli out of the race and even earned the support of high-profile tea party favorites like Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI).

Meanwhile, his opponents stumbled over opportunities to get national voices to endorse their campaign and bring with it the attention that could lead to money and momentum. Former Alaska governor and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who has offered her support in a few of these races, has seem disinterested in joining the fray, despite her similarities with Radtke. South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint has been noticeably absent. Radtke thought she had the endorsement of influential republican blogger Erik Erickson, only to have it taken away after an embarrassing conflict at Erickson’s annual Red State event.

This category is in flux because one of these endorsements could still come in with less than a week to go. But the chances of it having a game changing impact at this point are slim.

5- Hard work
This category might be best illustrated through a personal anecdote. It was December of 2010, a cold night in South Richmond. Former Senator George Allen was scheduled to appear at a forum on education with former DPVA chair Paul Goldman. I had received a press advisory so I thought it would be worth it to check it out. Allen had not announced his plans to run, but everyone assumed he was going to. Keep in mind this was just a little less than two years before the 2012 election.

I got to a small community center on the south side and there was no one there. Literally. The doors were locked. We had to be let in by a night janitor. We thought we were in the wrong place. He told us no, there was something happening, but we were just a little early.

About 20 minutes later, a few people trickled in. By the time it was time for the event to start, there may have been 20 people in attendance. Allen was among them. A one time governor, senator and even potential candidate for president came in ready to wax poetic on his thoughts on school choice and private/public education partnerships to a group about the size of a small church choir. We talked for a bit about his potential campaign, and then we left. He stayed. The event was scheduled to go for two hours, on a weeknight, three weeks before Christmas.

I said to my photographer Jerry Brown as we were leaving “there is NO way this guy is not running.”

Of course he was, and of course he knew what it was going to take to win. This is not to suggest that any of Allen’s opponents have not been working just as hard. I believe they actually are. But the difference between Allen and his contemporaries in other states is that they assumed that being who they were was enough to win. 2006 was clearly a wake up call for a man who did not really know what it was like to fail and its clear he doesn’t want something like that to happen again.

Now, I firmly believe that we truly have no idea what could happen on Tuesday and I am confident to leave the outcome to the voters. The point of this post was to illustrate why I believe Allen is in a strong position to win. The hardest part for this Virginia political heavyweight is that the hard work hasn’t really begun. If he is fortunate to get past this initial test, he has the biggest fight of his political life ahead of him.

Just one of the many reasons it will be the most watched race in the country.

7 Responses

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  1. I think you left out one of the biggest reasons: The media in Virginia seems to go out of its way to ignore challengers to establishment candidates. On those few occasions they do design to mention them, it is always couched in language that it will be “difficult” or “impossible” to win, thus setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    The media’s behavior in this race has been particularly egregious, especially with the press-sponsored debate last year between Allen and Kaine that excluded all of the non-establishment challengers, long before the primary election. It was shameful, but not surprising. Nor is it surprising that the media has not learned its lesson since, giving scant coverage to the challengers. With the media’s attention focused more on the horse race than the policy and more on the “brand name”, establishment candidates, it is no wonder we get the same useless, professional politicians over and over again. And, it is no wonder that in poll after poll, the level of public distrust in the media remains high.

    Kevin in Mechanicsville

    June 5, 2012 at 11:13 pm

  2. This is an article that might be appropriate after Tuesday. Lets see how this plays out before you write the final story of this primary. E.W. Jackson may very well end up surprising everyone.

    Chip Tarbutton

    June 6, 2012 at 9:06 am

  3. Kevin- I appreciate your insight.. I agree the challengers have not been given much coverage, but how is that the media’s fault? I have worked to give them some air/internet time, perhaps more than any TV reporter in Virginia, but rarely are their stories met with much interest. It is not the media’s job to get the word out about candidates. It is our job to report on the progress of the election. If any of these candidates had started to gain momentum, you can bet it would have been big news.

    In other states where insurgent candidates have had success, it has always been a big story. A ho-hum election is not good for reporters, we want a closely watched interesting race. Unfortunatley, in this instance that never materialized.

    Ryan Nobles

    June 6, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    • Ryan,

      Thank you for taking the time to respond. Before going further, I want to be clear that I am talking about the media in a very general sense and not pointing a finger at any specific outlet or reporter.

      I understand what you’re saying and I agree that it’s not the media’s job to get the word out about candidates. At least to a point. I certainly can’t speak for anyone else, but from my own point of view as a news consumer, what I want from the media is to clue me in on things that I don’t know, but might need to know about.

      From a political perspective, that would include serious (which is not synonymous with long-shot) candidates for office. The establishment candidates typically have a lot money, major party support, connections, and teams of people. That is a huge hurdle for any challenger to overcome, regardless of how qualified they are for the job. In fact, I would argue that being qualified for the job is not all that important in the scheme of things when it comes to actually mounting a successful campaign for public office. But it should be.

      And maybe that doesn’t mean airtime for each and every candidate. Maybe, going back to that first Allen vs. Kaine debate, it means sponsoring a debate that includes all of the serious candidates. That way the public can get a feel for who’s running and what they stand for. Put them in front of the public and then let them tell you who they are interested in. But that takes time and exposure, as exhibited by the Republican debates.

      As it stands now, I can ask the people I know that claim they pay attention to politics who is running for Senate and most will answer only Kaine and Allen. They don’t know about the other challengers because they rely on the media to inform them which has given them very little, if any, exposure to the alternatives.

      I realize that there needs to be a balance here. There isn’t enough time to deal with every issue and profile every wannabe candidate. It’s just that in my opinion, the coverage is generally tilted too far toward the horse race and the establishment players. This may be where we disagree most. Though I hope respectfully so.

      Kevin in Mechanicsville

      June 6, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    • Richard Viguerie endorsed the most conservative candidate who can win and that is not news?

      James "turbo" Cohen

      June 7, 2012 at 9:36 pm

      • Who?


        June 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm

  4. […] I have reported a bit on both races. Check out my story on Cantor’s challenge from Tea Party activists Floyd Bayne, and my story about George Allen’s ability to wade through a volitale electorate. […]

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