Six years ago then-Sen. George Allen (R) of Virginia was a rising star in the Republican Party with presidential potential. But his political career came to a halt in 2006 when he used an ethnic slur referring to an Indian-American videotaping a campaign event. Allen lost his senate reelection bid that year to Democrat Jim Webb.
National Journal traces the "rehabilitation of George Allen" in its latest edition. That transformation has led Allen to a neck-and-neck Senate race with former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (D). Congressional correspondent Shane Goldmacher talks with WAMU Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey about Allen and his upcoming race.
On how closely Allen was watched before the 'macaca moment': "In 2005, 2006, almost no one was considered a more likely presidential front-runner for Republicans than George Allen," says Goldmacher. "His staff moves were being tracked when he went to Iowa. He was followed by national reporters. National Journal did a poll of insiders and he was picked as the number one pick to be the 2008 nominee over John McCain and Mitt Romney."
Allen's new strategy and demeanor: "He's much more disciplined. He's well known for his cowboy demeanor. [But] this year on the trail, he's dropped his chewing tobacco; it's no longer part of his political persona," says Goldmacher. "He's also lost some of the presidential-level campaign staff. He's gone back [to] the person who managed his 1993 campaign for governor of Virginia. That's the person steering his campaign, rather than these brand name national strategists."
Whether Allen has been able to put the 'macaca moment' behind him:"I think it's certainly behind him in terms of the electorate," says Goldmacher. "The chief issue for the electorate in Virginia, and almost everywhere is the economy. On that issue, Allen really does seem to have an edge, according to polling, over Tim Kaine. But still, the shadow of his ethnic slur six years ago definitely hangs over the race."
How the presidential race is affecting both candidates: "One of the key parts to the Senate race is; can you do better than the presidential candidate from your party," says Goldmacher. "If you're George Allen, can you get someone who is an Obama voter to vote for you as a Republican. And same for Tim Kaine: as a Democrat, can you get someone who's going to pull the lever for Mitt Romney to vote for you."
On Allen's strategies for swing voters:"For George Allen, what he's done most recently is really reach out to women, where Mitt Romney [has] trailed Barack Obama. His first television ad features very soft focus testimonials from women who know him," says Goldmacher. "They're saying what a great guy he is, to soften his imagine and make him an appealing potential vote, particularly to folks here in Northern Virginia."
On Kaine's outreach to swing voters: "Tim Kaine has tied himself fairly closely with Barack Obama. Both the Allen campaign and the Kaine campaign have been very interested in aligning themselves with the president," says Goldmacher. "One critical thing that Kaine has done; he has defined 'rich' a little different than president Obama. President Obama wants no tax breaks to extended for those earning more than $250,000 a year. Tim Kaine has set that threshold a little higher at $500,000. That seems [like] a very clear attempt to reach out to the wealthy suburbs of Northern Virgina."