'08 Scrutiny Shines Unkind Light on Allen

By Robert Barnes and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 1, 2006

It was always a tricky proposition for Sen. George Allen to balance his 2006 reelection campaign with his 2008 presidential ambitions, and now the increased scrutiny and criticism that came with his role on the national stage endanger both.

Allen's prominence in the Republican presidential contest is the main reason the controversies that have roiled his effort to win a second term to the Senate have emerged now, after a 23-year political career, according to campaign strategists.

"When people start mentioning you as a possible presidential candidate, everything is looked at," said Robert E. Denton Jr., a political communications professor at Virginia Tech and a close observer of Virginia politics. "This [scrutiny] is a whole different ballgame for Allen, and it's all about '08, not the Senate campaign."

It wasn't that many months ago that Allen was seen by political insiders as already in the top tier of prospective Republican presidential candidates. In April 2005, he finished first in a National Journal magazine survey of insiders asked to predict the 2008 GOP nominee. In May, Allen finished second behind Arizona Sen. John McCain.

But instead of laying the groundwork for a campaign in Des Moines and Charleston, S.C., Allen's renewed attention is on Winchester and Roanoke. His last trip to one of the early primary states was in July.

The tightening Senate race has even led him to showcase potential rival McCain in television ads aimed at veterans and the kinds of independent voters to whom the Arizona Republican appeals and who could be critical in Allen's race with Democrat James Webb.

Campaign manager Dick Wadhams, who was chosen to be Allen's Senate chief of staff specifically for his national political expertise, doesn't want to talk about anything but the present. "I'm concentrating on the Senate race in 2006," he said yesterday.

He said he doesn't know what role Allen's national profile has played in the campaign. "What I will say is the preponderance of scrutiny of Sen. Allen, as opposed to lack of scrutiny of Webb, suggests that one candidate is getting all the scrutiny, and the other is getting away with no scrutiny at all," Wadhams said.

He also said that Allen's leadership of Republican efforts to retain control of the Senate in 2004, when Democrats thought they had a chance for a takeover, "certainly made Sen. Allen a target."

The milestones in a campaign that recently turned on questions of Allen's character -- a New Republic story that mined Allen's longtime affection for the Confederacy, a piece in the Jewish newspaper the Forward that revealed the senator's unacknowledged Jewish heritage, the emergence of long-ago acquaintances who say Allen used racial epithets in the 1970s, a charge Allen vehemently denies -- have all come about, the participants say, because of his presidential ambitions.

Even the campaign-altering event for which Allen has taken responsibility and for which he has apologized -- his use of the word "macaca" to describe a dark-skinned volunteer for Webb's campaign and his "welcome to America and the real world of Virginia" remarks to the young Fairfax County native -- took flight nationally because of his prominence among Republican 2008 contenders.

Allen campaign officials and supporters have accused the national media, especially The Washington Post, of hyping the macaca story. So it was not a pleasant surprise last week when the influential conservative magazine the Weekly Standard illustrated its long story on Allen with a drawing of the senator with a monkey on his back. (Macaca is a genus of monkey.) The piece said Allen's campaign controversies "have almost eliminated him from the field of serious presidential candidates and even jeopardized his Senate seat."

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