Yet after seeing his career derailed by a stunning reelection loss in 2006, Allen is determined to regain that seat, running hard against Timothy M. Kaine (D) in perhaps the closest and most closely watched Senate contest in the country. Allen’s previous Senate term has become a flash point in the race and offers a host of clues about what he would do if he succeeds.
Lawmakers and aides who worked with Allen said that while he was able to advance a handful of key legislative issues, he was not in the chamber long enough to build a lengthy list of achievements. He occasionally worked across the aisle but typically voted the Republican leadership’s line and steered his party’s aggressive effort to gain seats in 2004.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, who served with Allen on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Allen was “ahead of the curve” on energy and high-tech policy.
“He brought the perspective of a governor to all these issues, meaning that while he argued for his principles, he also worked to get a result,” said Alexander (R-Tenn.).
Democrats saw Allen differently — as a partisan with a thin legislative record.
“He did a good job of picking and choosing spots to work on that were important to his constituencies, including the high-tech issues,” recalled Jim Manley, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). “But for any Democrat looking to work with a Republican, he’d be one of the last people that anyone would think of.”
A narrow focus
New senators are typically advised to pick one or two issues and focus on them. In Allen’s case, that meant he spent the bulk of his time working on high-tech policy — a top priority for a booming industry in Northern Virginia.
“He dug deep into his committee assignments, actually worked hard on those and cultured some expertise,” recalled Eric Ueland, who was a top aide to former majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).
Critics, including some Republicans, disagree, contending that Allen compiled an undistinguished legislative record, even for a one-term senator.
Allen touts accomplishments on several fronts, from technology and energy policy to helping veterans and reforming the budget process.
In 2001, he sponsored an amendment that gave tax breaks to families buying computers. He worked to extend the moratorium on Internet taxes, restrict spam and fund nanotechnology research. Allen also pushed a bill to boost technology funding for historically black colleges and universities.
For veterans, Allen worked to raise the death benefit for the families of fallen troops to $100,000, and like most lawmakers, he voted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without providing ways to pay for them.
Allen consistently received high marks from right-leaning groups such as the American Conservative Union and the National Right to Life Committee, and he voted in support of President George W. Bush’s positions more than 95 percent of the time, according to statistics from Congressional Quarterly.