That Other Losing George
My colleague The Moose greeted the Virginia gubernatorial results with the headline: "Warner Defeats Bush!" And indeed, Warner deserves a lot of credit for Kaine's win, not only because he campaigned effectively for his chosen successor, but because his record gave the Democrat a big leg up while reacquainting Virginians with the virtues of the Donkey.
There's also no question George W. Bush was a big loser yesterday, after having intervened in the Virginia governor's race at the last moment. At the rate he's going, Republican candidates next year may echo the words of Bob Dole in 1974, who, when asked if he wanted an embattled Richard Nixon to campaign for him in Kansas, said: "I wouldn't mind if he flew over."
But there's another Republican George whose repuation took a hit yesterday: Sen. Allen of Virginia.
Back before it became fashionable to view the Kaine-Kilgore contest as a test of the relative appeal of Warner and Bush, it was often thought of as a shadow war between Warner and Allen, two Virginians eyeing a White House run in 2008. Allen certainly campaigned for Kilgore as much if not more than Warner campaigned for Kaine. Allen appeared in Kilgore's ads, vouching for the natty mountaineer's alleged sturdy folk virtues. The way things turned out, Allen's lucky Bush flew in to take the fall for Kilgore's debacle, but the race sure hasn't burnished his own presidential credentials.
That's certainly bad timing for the junior senator. Up until now, he was the Washington Insider's hot pick for the guy who might become the consensus conservative choice to block the awful prospect of a McCain nomination in '08. Indeed, he didn't seem to have much competition for that role. The nascent Bill Frist bandwagon has blown all four tires. Brownback's views are too crazy. Santorum probably won't hang onto his Senate seat. None of the GOP governors seem to be standing out (Bill Owens of Colorado was once the Rising Star of the Right, but he's managed to alienate the Christian Right with his marital problems and then was recently excommunicated by the No Tax Church of Grover Norquist). Guiliani's less acceptable to conservatives than McCain. Haley Barbour? Give me a break.
On paper, Allen looks pretty good. He's been a governor, then a senator. He's obnoxiously conservative on most issues, but has managed to avoid making too many enemies, and always did surprisingly well in Virginia among minority voters. He won rave reviews for his tenure as chairman of the Republican senatorial campaign committee.
But he sure couldn't drag ol' Jerry across the finish line in his own state. And worse yet, Kilgore got trounced in George's old stomping grounds of Albemarle County (Charlottesville)--the very place where the son of the legendary Redskins coach once quarterbacked the Cavaliers.
Now, as a relative newcomer to Virginia, I've never quite fathomed the Allen Mystique. He was a fairly successful one-term governor during an economic boom. Sure, he's got the pseudo-populist rap down--he wears cowboy boots and chews tobacco--but he'd also give George W. Bush a strong run in a smirking contest, and has not exactly stood out as a senator, a policy innovator, or even much of an ideologue. My most searing impression of Allen was in a campaign ad he ran against Chuck Robb in 2000, wherein he seized on some anodyne Robb quote from ages earlier about the essential meaningnlessness of the Social Security Trust Fund, and accused his opponent of disrespecting the Lock Box! I had to check the channel to make sure I wasn't watching Saturday Night Live.
But all that aside, the bigger question about George is whether the country is ready for a presidential candidate whose entire world view and frame of reference is based on football metaphors.
I mean, I like football as much as the next cracker, but Allen's in his own league on this subject, as illustrated by a savage Dana Milbank profile of the senator earlier this year:
Sen. George Allen (Va.) contemplates a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, his prospects could come down to this key question: How many football metaphors can one nation stand?
Last month on the Senate floor, Allen, a former quarterback for the University of Virginia and son of the late Redskins coach of the same name, said critics of Condoleezza Rice, now secretary of state, "have used some bump-and-run defenses and tactics against her."
Talking about the Iraq war, he criticized Democrats for "Monday-morning quarterbacking."
When the GOP won a Senate seat in Louisiana in November, he said it "was like a double-reverse flea-flicker and a lateral."
As head of Senate Republicans' campaign efforts in 2004, he called his candidates in the southern states the "NFC South."
In Allen's world, primaries are "intrasquad scrimmages," his Senate staff is the "A-team," Senate recess is "halftime" and opponents are flagged for "pass interference."
If the electorate awarded points for football imagery, Allen would get the Heisman Trophy. But will voters find all this football talk to be presidential? That's a wild card.
After yesterday's results, I guess you could ask if Republicans want to go with a coach who's just lost a crucial home game by letting his quarterback get intercepted on a bomb thrown into triple coverage, when he should have just controlled the ball and run out the clock.
After all, at this point, Republicans don't want to follow up George W. with George L., for Loser. --