Senate Race Already Has One Loser: Va.'s Image

The race between Sen. George Allen, shown with his wife, Susan, and James Webb is attracting national and international attention, much of it focused on a series of accusations and apologies.
The race between Sen. George Allen, shown with his wife, Susan, and James Webb is attracting national and international attention, much of it focused on a series of accusations and apologies. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 2, 2006

RICHMOND -- Virginia is taking it on the chin these days.

Its legislature has become synonymous with inaction, having squabbled for eight months about taxes and roads, then returned for a special session last week only to abandon efforts to end congestion after less than 48 hours.

And its U.S. Senate race has become daily fodder for late-night talk show hosts, international gossip rags, partisan blogs and television comedians.

"In Virginia, it has its upside, being considered racist," joked Jon Stewart on Wednesday night on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," noting the latest allegations that Sen. George Allen (R) had once used a racial epithet.

The next night, Stewart was at it again, this time chuckling over Allen's excuse for once displaying a Confederate flag: that he was rebellious in his youth.

"Since when is hoisting a Confederate flag in Virginia rebellious?" Stewart asked, his incredulous expression prompting guffaws from the studio audience. After pointing out that Democrat James Webb once called a Naval Academy dorm a "horny woman's dream," Stewart said: "Well, Virginia. It's now up to you. Which of these two men will help you build a bridge to, let's say, the early- to mid-20th century?"

Allen even found himself parodied on "Saturday Night Live," where the Weekend Update crew made fun of him as a racist cowboy who makes up silly words. "I'm just a good old Virginia boy with Virginia values that I learned growing up in [an] affluent part of Southern California," the bogus Allen said.

None of it is a laughing matter for the participants, who are struggling to talk about issues amid the accusations and jokes. But the hoopla is also tarnishing Virginia's image as the commonwealth prepares to celebrate its 400th birthday next year.

For the state's top cheerleader, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), the daily drumbeat of bad news threatens to overshadow the state's accomplishments as a good place to live, conduct business and visit.

"When the 'macaca' incident happened, my main concern . . . is to do what we have done often and well since 1607, which is to be open to the world," Kaine said, referring to Allen's calling an Indian American Webb aide "macaca." "It's not doom and gloom and dire. But I'm also not going to say it's not frustrating."

In an interview the day after the General Assembly gave up on transportation, Kaine said his state's image is still good -- Governing Magazine has called the state the "best managed" in the nation, and 10 percent of the country's top secondary schools are in Virginia, according to an annual Newsweek survey.

But Kaine conceded that hearing the jokes and seeing the headlines every day stings.


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