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Minorities in GOP Rally for Allen in N.Va.

Vellie Dietrich-Hall speaks with George Allen before a GOP event dubbed an
Vellie Dietrich-Hall speaks with George Allen before a GOP event dubbed an "ethnic rally" for the senator at Edison High School in Fairfax County. At right is Rep. Thomas M. Davis III. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 10, 2006

Virginia Sen. George Allen joined several hundred Asian, Hispanic and black supporters in Fairfax County yesterday at a rally designed to show diversity within the Republican Party while recognizing immigrants' growing clout in state elections.

The event came as Allen, a candidate for reelection who has been dogged for weeks by charges of insensitivity to minorities, juggles a rural image that has served him well in past races with the political reality that vote-rich Northern Virginia includes swelling ethnic populations.

"It is invigorating to be here with all sorts of different, diverse backgrounds," Allen told the audience after saying "good morning" and "thank you" in several languages.

Allen was joined by Reps. Frank R. Wolf and Thomas M. Davis III, two Northern Virginia Republicans facing aggressive Democratic challengers in an area where political allegiances could be shifting.

"This is a tough year," Davis told the crowd, which included at least a dozen ethnic Republican groups. "You can read the polls. You can read the press. You can see we are all under fire. We need your help."

A Mason-Dixon poll commissioned by several newspapers across the state and scheduled for release today shows Allen leading Democratic challenger James Webb 46 to 42 percent, according to people familiar with the survey. But Webb leads Allen by 13 points in Northern Virginia, even though the Democrat is relatively unknown and won't air his first television ad until tomorrow. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Northern Virginia has changed since Allen, a former U.S. representative and governor, last ran for office in 2000.

In Fairfax County, the state's largest jurisdiction, 27 percent of the population is foreign-born. In Loudoun County, whites made up nearly 83 percent of the population in 2000, compared with 74 percent today. The number of Hispanics in Prince William County more than doubled in the past six years, census figures show.

Virginia's ethnic population remains a relatively small portion of the electorate, pollsters say. And unlike African Americans, who tend to vote Democratic, immigrants in Virginia are not closely aligned with either political party, making them critical swing voters in close elections.

Allen is trying to recover from his remark last month to a young man of Indian descent. Allen called the Webb campaign aide "macaca." After nationwide criticism, Allen apologized, saying he didn't realize the word, a genus of monkey, is a slur in some cultures.

Democrats say the remark hurt Allen among non-white voters, including Korean and Indian Americans who often vote Republican in federal races.

"I think it creates a big opening," said Peter Brodnitz, Webb's pollster. "In addition to the real impact, there is a symbolic problem, which is George Allen coming across as closed-minded."

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