As George Allen mulls Senate run, conservatives grumble about his record

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 26, 2010; 8:03 PM

For months, it appeared that former U.S. senator George Allen would have a clear path to the Republican nomination if he chose to try to reclaim his old job.

But in the summer, grumbling about his past began, culminating in a Web site outlining the reasons some fellow Republicans oppose him: He's too moderate. He's part of the establishment. He's partly to blame for the record spending and ballooning deficit in Washington.

By this month, no fewer than four Republicans billing themselves as more conservative than Allen were considering challenging him for the right to run against Sen. James Webb, if the Virginia Democrat seeks reelection.

"There are some concerns based on his record and his rhetoric," said Mark Kevin Lloyd, chairman of the Lynchburg Tea Party and vice chairman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation, a statewide umbrella group. "People are looking at things in a new light," he said.

Some conservative and tea party activists say Allen abandoned right-of-center values, backing big-government programs and too much spending. But others say he merely failed to change along with Virginia and the Republican Party, both of which have become more conservative in part because of the emergence of the tea party movement.

"George is going to have to prove himself to our new friends in the party, and that's the way it should be," Gary C. Byler, the Republican chairman of the 2nd Congressional District and a veteran of Allen's first successful campaign for state House of Delegates, in 1981. Byler said he plans to support Allen if he runs, adding: "He knows he has a fight on his hands."

In an interview with The Washington Post, Allen said his conservatism has not changed since Ronald Reagan first inspired him to get into politics in 1976. Three decades ago, the man who would eventually hold Thomas Jefferson's seat in the Virginia General Assembly was known as a "rebel" and an "insurgent."

"Some of the things they are saying - it is laughable when you look at my record," said Allen, 58, a former congressman and governor.

Governor vs. senator

Allen, the presumptive front-runner for the GOP nomination, is considered one of Virginia's most transformational governors in a generation. He eliminated 10,000 state government jobs, sold the state yacht to save millions of dollars, abolished the parole system and increased sentences for violent criminals, and imposed a two-year limit for public assistance to overhaul what some considered a runaway government program.

But during his one term in the U.S. Senate, some Republicans complain, he backed President George W. Bush's proposals to increase spending; supported No Child Left Behind, a costly program to create a national education report card; favored a federal program to subsidize the costs of prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries; and voted to expand the Hate Crimes Prevention Act to include crimes based on sexual orientation.

Allen's term in the Senate ended in 2007. His failed 2006 reelection bid was dominated by a controversy that erupted when he used the word "macaca" - a term thought to mean a monkey and viewed by many as a racial slur - in reference to a young Indian American volunteer for Webb.

Shifting landscape

"I voted for him every time, but this time, no way," said Jo-Ann Chase, a conservative Republican from Loudoun County who is a member of the state party's governing board and is active with the Northern Virginia Tea Party. "He's moderate. Maybe at the time he was the most conservative we had."

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