George Allen’s Secret Weapon: Susan Allen
Family is in Senate race ‘110 percent’ after ‘06 campaign led to ‘toughest year of our lives’
As George Allen roams the state of Virginia in his quest for a second chance to reclaim his seat in the U.S. Senate, he invariably begins many of his sentences with “Susan and I…”
Susan is the former Susan Brown, now Susan Allen, his wife of 25 years, former first lady of Virginia, mother of three and self-described “sidekick” on the campaign trail. The two are a little Bill and Hill, a little Ron and Nancy.
“After losing in 2006, we never envisioned him running again,” Susan Allen said in a recent interview at Hollin Hall Pastry Shop in Fort Hunt near the Allens’ home in Mount Vernon. It was a squeaker of an election, with Jim Webb winning by less than 10,000 votes.
But it wasn’t long before backers urged George to jump back into politics. There was a big push, she noted, for him to run for governor again in 2009. (Allen served as governor from 1994-98. Although governors in Virginia cannot serve consecutive terms, former governors may run in subsequent years.) But with fellow Republican Bob McDonnell in the race “we thought about it, and it wasn’t right.”
Going through the tough 2006 Senate campaign, “you learn a lot,” she said. “George learned a lot as a candidate, we learned a lot as a family. He’s still the dad, the husband before being attacked personally in public. It grounded who we are, and we trust his ability and believe in his chance to lead again.”
“You do not enter into this lightly,” Susan said. “It’s interesting, I think obviously it was very painful to lose [in 2006]. My family was put through the toughest year of our lives—when the stalker is showing up at events, when people leave awful messages on your machine, or protestors are outside your house…there is nothing that I do once I walk out my front door that can go unnoticed.”
It was about this time last year that the Allen family made the decision to get back into politics.
“Probably the tipping point [in his decision to run again] came when our daughter [Tyler] graduated from college,” Susan said. “He talked to her and her college friends about what the economy was doing to their friends.”
Tyler now works for The Century Council in Crystal City (and hasn’t shown an interest in getting into politics herself), her mother said. Son Forrest is a student at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia and daughter Brooke is enrolled in middle school nearby.
George Allen announced his run for his old Senate seat last year on Jan. 24. Not long after, Webb announced his retirement from the Senate. Allen faces competition from fellow GOP candidates whom he'll face on the primary ballot June 12, and his likely Democratic opponent, former Gov. Tim Kaine. Most polls show it as a neck-and-neck race.
In the Spotlight
Susan Allen isn’t shy about getting in front of audiences as a spokesman for her husband as they criss-cross the state. “You know what, I just can’t stay on the sidelines, we are all in 110 percent,” she said.
Public speaking comes easily. “I’ve been doing it all my life,” she said. “My father’s second career is as a professor [his first career was in the U.S. Marine Corps], my mother is a docent at Ash Lawn, and marketing was my background.”
“I like talking about the issues,” she said. “If there’s an area I don’t feel comfortable about, I don’t talk about it.”
Susan Allen (then Susan Brown) first heard about George Allen when she was a college student. Her parents encouraged her to vote absentee for “a nice young man” running for the Virginia House of Delegates. At the time, she was studying marketing at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. Allen won the election, in 1981, reportedly by 25 votes. It was his second try and first success at running for office.
The two met later at the Foxfield Races in Charlottesville, where Susan’s family lives. George ambled over to thank Susan’s parents for their political support and sample some of Susan’s mother’s cooking.
Their first date was a long canoe trip. They were married a couple of years later in 1986. (Allen and his first wife Anne Patrice Rubel, who married in 1979, divorced in 1983.)
Connecting with Voters
In addition to making speeches, Susan Allen also urges backers to become an “Ambassador for Allen.” The program “empowers individuals to act as an ambassador for the campaign,” she said. “We want to give them enough information where they can take it and run. We’ll be very issue-focused, connected and empowered,” she said.
Utilizing Facebook for the campaign, Susan Allen said she marvels at what people comment on. “I throw out things on issues, but the things that get the most comments are photos.”
Another way the campaign connects with voters is “Politics on the Porch.” It’s a way for the campaign to get up close and personal with potential voters by meeting at backers’ homes in small groups.
“I think it’s really important, that person-to-person contact, the ‘What can we do to help you?’ public service and asking ‘Will you be a part of our team?’ It’s been really interesting to get that feedback from folks,” she noted.
Would she ever consider running for office herself? “I’ve been very fortunate to be the sidekick,” she said. “I don’t think the opportunity has presented itself to me.”
Her husband tells her politicians need two things: A thick skin and a sense of humor. She said she’s still working on the thick skin.
More About Susan Allen
Every morning, I read: “I do read the press clips every morning; I get up and turn on Channel 7 and watch the local news, and read the Post and the Examiner when it’s delivered to our home.”
The last book I read was: “I do like reading books and have giant stacks all around the bed. The last one I read was ‘The Wednesday Letters,’ by [fellow Virginian] Jason Wright, about a couple who die within hours of each other. Every Wednesday they would write letters to each other.”
Favorite meal: “Anything I don’t have to prepare myself; I’m not a good cook. My family doesn’t like fast food though; I use Prego on everything. My mother is a good cook.”
Anyone (living or dead) I would invite to dinner: “Margaret Thatcher; we saw her in London. She is a brilliant, brilliant, wonderful person…. I do like hearing about world events and discussing world events.”
The hardest thing I’ve ever done: “Raising our children, hands down.”
A dream I have is to: “See all my children happy.”
My favorite president is: “Ronald Reagan; George’s father was chairman of the Council on Physical Fitness. That was the first time I met President Reagan.”
My favorite first lady is: Laura Bush
The most daring thing I’ve ever done: “Getting on a COD (carrier onboard delivery) plane, where you fly backwards; it takes off in nine seconds; that was fun. That and the dragster…we went over 150 miles per hour.”
I like to relax by: “Working out, doing anything outdoors. I try to power walk three miles a day. I like to kayak and do Pilates at home.”
You’d be surprised to learn that I: “Am a ‘Type A’ person, because I think I project a calm demeanor. It’s the Gemini in me.”
A motto I live by is: “Be nice. My children will tell you I say that often.”