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Allen on Threshold of Taking It to Next Level

So far, the reviews of his committee leadership have been mixed.

A week ago, on NBC's "Meet the Press," he said he expected Republicans to win 54 seats, a prediction regarded by party strategists as brash and probably not sustainable.

Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), center, with wife Susan, jokes with constituents at a convention reception aboard the USS Intrepid. (Melina Mara For The Washington Post)

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2004 Va. Elections

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Other critics said the party might have fielded stronger challengers against incumbent Democrats in Washington, Wisconsin and North Dakota. Then in Illinois in June, GOP nominee Jack Ryan withdrew from the race in the midst of a very public and messy divorce.

One GOP strategist who works with several senators called Allen's performance "modestly underwhelming" and said his committee has been slow to make decisions, raise money or focus on details.

Democratic candidates outraised Republicans in seven of 10 top Senate races early in the year. And on Allen's watch, the senatorial committee lagged behind its Democratic counterpart in the first two quarters of an election year for the first time.

Allen's defenders point out that the committee still maintains a 2 to 1 cash advantage over the Democratic competition, $20 million to $11 million. They also say his task has been complicated by the ban on "soft money" contributions -- large donations from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals -- and competition with the Bush-Cheney campaign.

On Tuesday, Allen made the rounds of state delegations, drawing kind words from South Dakota and California Republicans. But he was bumped from speaking to the Iowa delegation at the last minute by former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whose Monday night speech left delegates buzzing about his 2008 prospects.

But Allen is nothing if not a happy warrior. At a reception Sunday on the deck of the decommissioned USS Intrepid, he tossed a football into the crowd, pinched tobacco from the tin and told Republicans to keep all wings of the party "flapping in the same direction."

"Keep smiling," Allen said. "Keep winning."

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