George Allen was 900 miles from the Republican National Convention Tuesday morning, and given the topics of discussion during his visit to a Loudoun County retirement community, he may as well have been on another planet.
Allen, the Republican nominee in Virginia’s much-watched U.S. Senate race against Timothy M. Kaine (D), is one of several congressional candidates from both sides of the aisle who have decided to forego the conventions to stick close to home. At a packed meeting of the Leisure World Republican Club, it was easy to see why.
The words “Republican platform” were not uttered. The convention itself came up only once in passing, and soon-to-be GOP nominee Mitt Romney merited just a couple of mentions. No one in the audience of seniors brought up Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) controversial Medicare reform plan, nor did Allen reference it. Though one attendee did make clear how she felt about the Republican vice presidential pick.
“Will you please tell the elite Republicans in Washington to please stop naysaying Romney and Ryan and get with the program?” retired homemaker Thelma Debes asked Allen, adding that she especially liked Ryan “because he’s intelligent, he’s very sincere, he works out — that’s important. He’s good with his family. He’s good with the community. He’s perfect!”
“Are you from Wisconsin?” Allen asked Debes, prompting laughter from the audience. (She’s originally from Geneva, Ill.)
In an interview following the meeting, Debes said she was also a fan of Ryan’s Medicare proposal, the latest version of which would give people currently under 55 the eventual option of receiving a voucher to pay for private insurance.
“I think his plan is excellent,” Debes said. “He’s saved [Medicare] for people over 55.”
Allen has refused to take a firm position on Ryan’s Medicare plan or say how he would have voted on Ryan’s budget the last two years had he been in the Senate, though Democrats have seized on some general words of praise Allen has offered for the spending blueprint.
Medicare did come up during the meeting, as Allen repeatedly attacked President Obama’s health-care law for using money from Medicare to help pay for his reform bill. Allen criticized the Obama plan on several other fronts, including — as he gestured to audience members with wheelchairs and walkers — for its tax increase on medical device manufacturers.
Responding to Allen’s event, the Kaine campaign sent a comment from state Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudoun).
“George Allen’s continued praise of the Ryan Medicare plan should tell Loudoun seniors all they need to know,” Herring said. “Instead of bringing down costs as Tim Kaine has suggested by letting the government negotiate lower costs for prescription drug prices, the Ryan plan would shift costs onto seniors and charge them more for health care. While George Allen has called the Ryan plan ‘worthwhile,’ we know it’s not worthwhile to burden our current and future retirees with higher medical costs after they’ve worked hard for decades.”
Leisure World residents also asked Allen about immigration, the Keystone Pipeline and how the Redskins, who practice just a few miles down the road in Ashburn, look this season. (Allen, whose brother Bruce Allen is the team’s general manager, expressed optimism overall but said he was concerned about the offensive line.)
The sole mention of the current goings-on in Tampa came when Bob Follett, the president of the Leisure World Republican Club, praised Allen because he “chose to be with us, rather than down there.”
After the event, Allen made clear he remained pleased with his decision to skip the convention. “I thought it was more important to be in Virginia with Virginians,” he said.