Will Sen. Allen's Cowboy Boots Fit Virginia Voters?

Allen and his wife, Susan Allen, greet attendees at the senator's 11th annual hoedown fundraiser in Maidens, Va.
Allen and his wife, Susan Allen, greet attendees at the senator's 11th annual hoedown fundraiser in Maidens, Va. (Photos By Dean Hoffmeyer -- Richmond Times-dispatch Via Associated Press)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 8, 2006

RICHMOND -- Like many kids, George Allen grew up idolizing television cowboys with shiny six-shooters at their hips. But his love affair with the imagery of the Old West endured into adulthood and became a motif of his political career.

He donned the boots, the flannel shirts and the ten-gallon hat as he rose from state lawmaker to congressman, governor and, finally, U.S. senator. The rustic image resonated in Virginia even though the state is far from cowboy country.

Now, as Virginia's junior senator battles for a second term and considers a run for the presidency in 2008, Allen hopes the cowboy persona still gives him the political benefit it gave his hero -- President Ronald Reagan -- and others such as President Lyndon B. Johnson and the current President Bush.

Last night, at a supporter's home near this city of the Old South, Allen held a Western-themed fundraiser called a "hoedown." Those who gave $50 were dubbed "Ranch Hands." Those who gave more than $1,000 earned titles such as "Buckaroo," "Cow Boss" or "Ranch Boss." Those who gave $10,000 or more to the Republican cause earned the title "El Ranchero Grande." In Allen's worldview, there is no greater compliment.

Critics say the would-be cowboy hasn't quite earned his spurs. They call it the tired political shtick of a 54-year-old Republican senator whose reelection is in jeopardy.

But former Allen chief of staff Jay Timmons said the image is genuine, born of a fascination Allen developed early in his childhood and even well into his teenage years in the 1960s.

"That was an age of long hair and the Beatles and wayward souls. Everybody was anti-establishment," said Timmons, a Washington lobbyist who is one of Allen's closest friends. "He was not somebody who was part of a pack. He did his own thing. He was clearly searching for an identity that he could connect with."

For Allen, who uses Copenhagen and wears leather cowboy boots with his blue suits, being a cowboy means dressing and acting the part.

"He connected with that at an early age," Timmons said. "It's because of that self-reliant mentality of the Old West, the pioneering spirit. That all appeals to him."

At the soggy hoedown, about 500 folks gathered under tents at the home in Goochland County along the James River. Many wore the requisite cowboy hats. A 10-foot-tall pair of brown cowboy boots greeted them as they arrived. A four-man old-time band played as the crowd munched on barbecue chicken, coleslaw, baked beans and chocolate-chip cookies.

"As far as I'm concerned, cowboy values are the best values," said Elliott Curzon, 51, a lawyer from Alexandria who called himself a huge Allen fan. "They're American values. They're gentle, but they're tough when they need to be."

The evening's featured speaker was conservative author Laura Ingraham. But the donors were there to see Allen and help him get reelected. Dressed in a white shirt, black bolo tie and tan cowboy hat, Allen promised victory.

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