Stressing Pork, Not The Party

By E. J. Dionne Jr.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006

GLEN ALLEN, Va. -- Sen. George Allen, the Virginia Republican up for reelection this year, and Jim Webb, his Democratic opponent, have big differences on Iraq. Allen supports President Bush's policies. Webb opposed the war.

But the big news out of their debate Saturday in Hot Springs had nothing to do with the Middle East. The geographic locale that mattered was Craney Island.

Most people outside Virginia's Hampton Roads region have never heard of Craney Island -- and neither had Webb, an anti-politician whose career has taken him from the military to the Reagan administration to writing and now back to the Democratic Party.

Allen asked: "Jim, what's your position on the proper use of Craney Island?"

Webb replied, candidly: "I'm not sure where Craney Island is. Why don't you tell me?"

No doubt feeling very pleased, Allen replied: "Craney Island's in Virginia."

Just last week -- as Jim Hodges of the Daily Press in Newport News, Va., reported -- the Senate authorized a $671.3 million expansion of Craney Island, adding 580 acres and "offering a boost for a future port there."

Allen wanted no one to miss the significance. "This is huge," he told reporters. "It's a big, big deal."

I have no idea whether Allen will get a boost from his quiz-show moment of triumph and the implication that he delivered big-time for Virginia. What's interesting is the extent to which Allen and other Republican incumbents around the country are talking up how they brought big government's largess to their constituents.

It doesn't matter that they claim to be against that very same big government. Faced this year with a choice between running on their party's record and delivering pork, they'll take pork.

That means that some incumbent Republican senators are acting as if they were seeking reelection for governor -- or even mayor.

Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) started running a television spot a couple of weeks ago focusing on "fires, accidents, paramedic calls" and the needs of localities to be prepared for terrorist attacks.

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