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George Allen, post-primary
SINCE 1913, when the 17th Amendment mandated the direct election of candidates to the U.S. Senate, no defeated senator from Virginia has regained his seat. This is not a record George Allen, having just disposed of three primary challengers, hopes to preserve in his race against former fellow governor Tim Kaine.
To Mr. Allen, his campaign buzzword, "comeback," carries a double meaning. It is intended to convey his intent to return America to its economic strength and self-confidence of old--but it also describes his own efforts to shake off a devastating loss to now-Sen. Jim Webb in 2006 at a time when some Republicans dared to envision a President Allen. Then came "macaca" and a campaign in which ineptitude and nastiness ran neck and neck.
Mr. Allen, who got two of every three votes cast Tuesday, hopes that Virginia voters, like some dementia patients, have a better memory of the distant past than the recent one. From 1995-98, Mr. Allen was a governor of consequence, abolishing parole and salting away public menaces in the Big House; establishing K-12 educational standards that insured against empty diplomas; and reforming a dystopian welfare system. As senator (2002-06), however, he seemed to be in bullpen mode, waiting to take the mound in the Oval Office League. He ended up beaning himself.
Mr. Kaine, by contrast, was a governor of no great accomplishment, in part because of a budget-starving economy. Even so, he lacked gumption, temporarily resisting, then signing on to a Rube Goldberg scheme--take a bow, Bill Howell--to fix state transportation. On the other hand--and despite his gubernatorial moonlighting (some would say sunlighting) as chairman of the Democratic National--he worked well with legislative Republicans, not an ability to despise in polarized Washington.
Allen vs. Kaine, by every poll and prognostication, figures to be a close contest, just as Romney vs. Obama does in the Old Dominion--and the latter result will influence the former. Democrats need a Virginia Senate win to keep control of that body, and Mr. Obama needs one, probably, to keep a Pennsylvania Avenue address. While every 10th word from Mr. Allen is "comeback," Mr. Kaine's echolalia of choice is "talent economy." Two appealing ideas from two imperfect candidates--we'll have five months to sort it all out.