November 8, 2006 Update:
As the Crystal Ball predicted, Democrat Jim Webb unseated Republican George Allen with 50% of the vote.
November 6, 2006 Update:
Jim Webb (D)
Let’s get one thing out of the way: the evolution of this race’s closeness has had little to do with Jim Webb or his campaign’s efforts and almost everything to do with Allen’s self-inflicted wounds, which have made voters’ memories of his leadership of a “silicon Dominion” in the 1990’s as governor less accessible and have recast him as more of a strictly “Red America” politician. A coordinated attack on Webb’s fiction writing may have been the last straw, as the move was roundly criticized by editorial writers. All the alarm bells for Allen are now ringing: he is stuck at about 45 percent in most surveys, the Webb side (an entourage of Governors Wilder, Warner, and Kaine) is clearly being met with more enthusiastic receptions on the stump, and most sources tell us the GOP is headed for major carnage in the Commonwealth’s largest vote trove, Northern Virginia. Much as the toppling of Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle came to symbolize the GOP’s Senate triumph in 2004, the once-unthinkable defeat of Allen would put an exclamation point on Democrats’ wins this year.
November 2, 2006 Update:
It’s looking more like Democrat Jim Webb will unseat Sen. George Allen. Of course we’re not counting him out altogether, but Allen’s slow self-destruction has been nothing short of breathtaking, and the Crystal Ball is still somewhat shocked to find the Old Dominion at the epicenter of the fight for the Senate.
August 28, 2006 Update:
By now, it’s pretty safe to say that if you’re not familiar with the latest “monkey business” that has swallowed coverage of Virginia’s Senate race whole, you’ve been living under a rock. And for that matter, GOP Sen. George Allen now finds himself in somewhat of a hard place in the race against Democratic challenger Jim Webb.
Allen’s videotaped August 14th remarks to an Indian-American Webb volunteer S.R. Sidarth before a crowd in Southwest Virginia, which included calling college student Sidarth “Macaca” and uttering “welcome to America,” spread like wildfire on both internet video sites and cable news outlets and drew widespread criticism from editorialists and Allen foes alike. As it turns out, the strange-sounding moniker is both a genus of African monkey and a racial slur used against dark-skinned people in the northern reaches of that continent, perhaps not incidentally the region of Allen’s mother’s origin.
But Allen’s reelection hopes–and even more likely his 2008 presidential hopes–have been damaged as much by his campaign’s erratic handling of the gaffe as by the gaffe itself. At first, his campaign staff insisted no apology was necessary and explained that Allen had simply adapted a reference to the student’s Mohawk hairstyle; later, Allen claimed that he had simply made up the word and finally apologized after a long week of bad press.
The spectacle is certainly an early Christmas present for Webb, who has himself reacted to the incident rather quietly: a late August SurveyUSA poll pegged Allen’s lead at 48% to 45%, down from the 56% to 37% lead the incumbent had enjoyed in the same poll two months earlier. Clearly, Allen is no longer the 800-pound gorilla he once was in this race pre-Macaca, though it remains to be seen whether the DSCC will independently expend the millions Webb badly needs in order to truly seize the new opening.
August 2, 2006 Update:
Senator George Allen continues to lead Jim Webb by varying margins in polls, but Allen also continues to track below 50 percent. Webb is leading Allen in Northern Virginia, which supplies one-third of the state’s votes, and Allen’s burden is his close association with President George W. Bush and the Iraq war. An upset cannot be ruled out, but it remains unlikely–many would say very unlikely. Still, this will be Allen’s most difficult race if–and it’s a big if–Webb can get significant financing. Currently, he has several hundred thousand dollars to Allen’s $6 million; that is not an upset-producing ratio.
June 14, 2006 Update:
Democrats made a smart, strategic choice in selecting former Reagan Navy Secretary Jim Webb as their nominee in a primary on June 13. Webb was dramatically outspent by high-tech lobbyist Harris Miller, and Webb didn’t air a single television ad or produce much direct mail. But Democrats realized that a former Republican who voted for Bush and George Allen in 2000 but who has turned Democratic on the basis of the Iraq War would be their stronger candidate. Webb has little money, and he will need the national party’s help in a major way. If (and only if) they deliver it, Webb has the resume and aggressiveness to become a threat to Allen.
The incumbent Republican is out of favor in some heavily populated parts of Virginia because of his hard partisanship. Also, his ambitious attempt to run for President and another term in the Senate simultaneously is not sitting well with many. Allen’s enormous bank account ($7.5 million) and all the other advantages of incumbency make him the clear favorite, but this is still a contest to watch. It will be revealing how much the national Democratic party decides to play in Virginia. Are they serious about getting a majority in 2006, or do they just want to pick up a few seats?
June 1, 2006 Update:
The Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate is Tuesday, June 13; it is a real horse race between Harris Miller and Jim Webb. National Democrats almost unanimously view Webb as the strongest nominee, who can give Senator George Allen a tough fight in November. But, Miller may be running the more effective primary campaign, though it probably won’t help him in the fall. This primary could go either way, and Allen has a clear stake in the outcome.
March 27, 2006 Update:
Suddenly, this one has turned interesting. It is not so much that Republican Senator George Allen is not still favored for reelection. Rather, he has two ardent, energetic Democratic foes who will face off against each other in a June 13 Democratic primary: wealth business man Harris Miller and former Reagan Navy Secretary Jim Webb. Miller seems to be the choice of a good portion of the Democratic Party establishment, while Webb is viewed as a high-risk/high-reward opponent for Allen. It is far from clear which one will actually win the nomination.
What is clear is that Allen is continuing to campaign across the country for the presidency in 2008, and to run simultaneously for reelection in Virginia. This is beginning to attract substantial criticism, as it is becoming obvious that Allen hopes he will not serve out his second Senate term. Virginia has been moving away from the Republicans for several years, for a combination of demographic and political reasons, and the state is no longer as conservative as Allen. It will be fascinating to watch whether Webb or Miller can begin to “draw some blood” and force
Allen to stay in the Old Dominion and spend his money on the reelection race instead of the presidential contest. Allen is engaged in a high-wire act with two separate wires, and anyone–even an accomplished athlete–can tumble to the ground in these circumstances.
If former Democratic Governor Mark Warner had challenged one-term Republican Senator George Allen, Allen would have a very tough road to reelection. However, Warner has now announced he will not run, so Allen and Warner can both devote their time and money to the 2008 race for President.
Yet it will be interesting to see if the Democrats can come up with a credible nominee against Allen–one that will keep him tied down to Virginia and spending at least a few million dollars of his war chest. A prominent name has now emerged in Harris Miller, a wealthy businessman in the technology field, who is head of the ITAA. Miller is a good friend of former Gov. Warner and was the former Democratic chairman for the gargantuan Fairfax County in Northern Virginia. Miller starts out the race as a heavy underdog, but he has some strengths. He is articulate, knows the issues, will be well-funded, and apparently will be the nominee of a resurgent party in The Old Dominion. In this case, it may not be a matter of winning, but rather how well a challenger can do.
The Republican electorate for 2008 will be watching this race closely to see how Allen road-tests his presidential seams.