In 2006, less than 10,000 votes took George Allen out of the U.S. Senate. The Reagan Republican has a long road ahead as he seeks to reclaim his former seat, especially in a contest with Democratic National Committee Chair Tim Kaine in a general election.
The race will be one of the most competitive and closely watched in the nation - a face-off between two popular former Virginia governors in a presidential election year.
“I look at 2012 as a pivotal time in the history of our country,” Allen said from his office in Old Town Alexandria. “We’re either going to continue declining or change the trajectory of this country and start ascending again.”
At 59, Allen's hair is a little grayer since his last campaign. This November, his political career will have spanned 20 years, beginning with his election to the State House of Representatives in 1991. His U.S. Senate run will most certainly be dogged by the political misstep that may have cost him the 2006 election. At a campaign rally in August 2006, Allen called a staffer for now Democratic Sen. Jim Webb “Macaca,” a central African racial term meaning "monkey."
“It was a mistake. I never should have drawn that young man who was working for my opponent and following me around the state into the debate,” Allen said. “I apologized for it and then learned from it. It also allowed the campaign to get diverted from issues and ideas that people and families care about and what they want to hear in a campaign. And, speaking of families, I know what my family had to endure, what with taunts and insults because of my mistake. So, people may want to bring it up. I’ll answer to it forthrightly.”
Allen leads Kaine by 13 percentage points, according to a recent poll conducted by Roanoke College. Additionally, nearly two-thirds of Virginia Republicans would vote for Allen versus his primary opponents - Tea Party activist Jamie Radtke and businessman David McCormick - according to a recent poll from Public Policy Polling. Allen has raised $1.5 million to date for his campaign, according to his campaign.
“We’ll see how many people get into the race,” Allen said. “Once the nomination is concluded everyone needs to unite to beat the liberals. This is going to be a crucial state, not just for the presidential campaign, but it will be crucial for the U.S. Senate.”
Allen’s agenda has three aspects: reining in federal spending, job creation and opening up U.S. energy resources. “If we the people don’t like a product that some automobile manufacturer is selling, we don’t buy it. It doesn’t mean you take money from us and then give it to that failing company,” he said. “I don’t like to see anybody lose jobs, however it’s not the role of the government to take money from those who are successful and giving it to those who are failing.”
On energy policy: “We’re the Saudi Arabia when it comes to coal – three times over, and we ought to be using clean coal technology for affordable electricity in our country,” Allen said. “The same with oil that we have off the Gulf Coast or the Bering north slope of Alaska. I feel very strongly that we ought to be able to explore off our coast in Virginia and share the royalties with the state. That’s a very important aspect for jobs and competitiveness because last year, 41% of our trade deficit was for the importation of oil. I’d just as soon keep those jobs here in America, providing for families and not sending it to, in many cases hostile dictators, oligarchs and cartels, where we’ve been punting on energy policies.”
On Sarah Palin and the tea party: “Sarah Palin is a force, and I consider her a friend,” Allen said. “The tea party members, whether they’re in Northern Virginia or the Shenandoah Valley, Richmond, Hampton Roads, Southside and Southwest Virginia are all important. All voters are important. Our target group for our campaign is anyone who pays taxes, anyone who works for a living or cares about their family. If they meet that criteria, they ought to be for us.”
On the budget: “I have been a long-time advocate for a balanced budget requirement in the Constitution. We have it in Virginia, we used it and most states use it as well. That’s one way to bind down the federal government and these profligate spenders with a change to the Constitution so that they don’t load future generations of Americans with enormous loads of debt.
“I’ve been an advocate of paycheck penalty, which is if Congress doesn’t get the appropriations bills done on time, which is their job and what they’re paid to do. Every member of Congress right now should not get paid. If you’re a contractor and don’t get the job done on time, you’re not paid. So, we need to get back to basics. I’ve been fighting for the taxpayers and reducing taxes and reducing government spending,” Allen said.
On the Middle East: “Each country is different. I would have liked to see the president, insofar as Iran is concerned, when those young students were demonstrating a year or so ago, I would have liked to see the President of the United States say: ‘We’re with the people wanting freedom and liberty in Iran,’ the same way Ronald Reagan to give hope to those behind the Iron Curtain. I’m not saying we join the demonstrators thirsting for freedom, however, we ought to be on the right side of a people who are for a free and just society.”
Allen has been out of office for five years. “You learn a lot in government and you learn a lot out of government,” he said. “The point is, this campaign is about the future and the battle for the future will be in Washington, D.C. I wish more of the decisions were being made in Richmond or Raleigh, in state capitals. And that’s the reason I’m asking the people of Virginia to hire me on - so their values and voices can be heard in Washington.”