Allen, a former senator and governor, is seeking the nomination along with three distant rivals: Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), tea party activist Jamie Radtke and Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson.
In the hour-long debate, all four spoke of the election as coming at a pivotal moment for the United States, which they described as on its way to fiscal and social ruin and desperately in need of stronger leadership in Washington.
“I am not an African American. I am an American,” Jackson declared, prompting hearty applause from the mostly white audience of 500 that had elected to kick off Memorial Day weekend with an evening in a Falls Church hotel ballroom. “It is time to end the tenure of King Barack.”
Later, Allen said that this election “is our generation’s rendezvous with destiny. And freedom hangs in the balance.”
A recent Washington Post poll showed Allen getting 62 percent of the vote among likely GOP primary voters. Marshall was next, with 12 percent, and Radtke and Jackson had 5 percent and 3 percent, respectively.
The winner of the primary will face Kaine in November. He has no opposition for the Democratic Senate nomination. The race for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. James Webb (D) is expected to help determine the balance of power in the Senate.
In previous debates, Allen’s rivals have criticized his record as a single-term senator and as governor, while Allen has mostly focused on Kaine’s stints as governor and Democratic National Committee chairman.
Radtke, who had been the most aggressive against Allen, launched radio ads this week that labeled him as a big spender who as senator went along with the ways of Washington instead of challenging them. But she only took a few swipes at him Friday.
“This moment in time does not call for politics as usual,” she said.
Marshall needled Allen when the topic turned to gay judges, suggesting that the former governor was tiptoeing around an issue that the delegate had championed in Richmond a week earlier against the wishes of party leaders weary of social issues in the General Assembly.
About 10 days earlier, Marshall had successfully pushed the General Assembly to block the nomination of a gay Richmond prosecutor for a city judgeship. Marshall contended that Tracy Thorne-Begland, who came out as gay as a naval officer 20 years ago on “Nightline,” was unfit for the bench because he had challenged the military’s ban on gays openly serving in the military, advocated for gay marriage and lives with a partner with whom he is raising twins.