The 'What If' of Allen Haunts the GOP Race
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
RICHMOND -- As Virginia voters prepare to go to the polls Tuesday to help choose the Republican nominee for president, state and national party leaders are left wondering: What if former senator George Allen had never uttered the word "macaca"?
After years of preparing for a 2008 presidential run, including trips to Iowa and New Hampshire and formation of a national network of donors, Allen's use of the word on Aug. 11, 2006, changed the landscape of the GOP nominating contest.
"The most important word uttered in the Republican presidential primary has not been terrorism or taxes, not faith or family, " GOP strategist Dan Schnur wrote recently in the Los Angeles Times. "Rather it was macaca."
Allen, who could not be reached, used the word at a campaign stop to point out a Democratic activist who is an Indian American. The incident aired on the Internet and on television and was covered extensively by newspapers, contributing to Allen's stunning loss in 2006 to James Webb (D).
Allen's subsequent decision not to run for president left GOP activists searching for their next leader. For the first time in a generation, there is no presidential candidate who inspires all elements -- economic, social and national security conservatives -- of the modern Republican Party.
Would Allen have been that candidate?
"A lot of us saw him as the 1,000-pound gorilla. He would have had so much clout and credibility within the party around the country," said Chuck Smith, chairman of the Virginia Beach Republican Party.
Other Republicans say Allen would have been far from a shoo-in for the nomination despite his potential advantages. As the race heated up last summer, President Bush's approval ratings were plunging to record lows among GOP voters frustrated over his immigration policies and his management of the war in Iraq.
With his signature cowboy boys and "aw shucks" personality, Allen could have been defined as the candidate most like Bush, some Republican strategists say.
"To some, that would have been his only drawback," said Grover Norquist, a conservative activist who heads Americans for Tax Reform. "People say he does kind of look and dress like Bush."
But Norquist and others believe Allen could have been the front-runner today, filling a void in the current field to be what GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio called "the consensus conservative candidate."
Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va) said: "One of the problems with each of the Republican presidential candidates this year is each of them doesn't connect with all segments of the party. Allen would have been able to do that."