Ever since the National Journals Insiders Poll -- a poll of various Washington bigwigs, heavyweights, and wise men -- reported that George Allen is the favored 2008 nominee of the Republican establishment, I've been trying to get a feel for what he's about. This isn't, by the way, the first time I've heard of him. A buddy of mine who's a pretty astute political observer has been talking up his danger for a few months now, arguing that he's a more genial, more authentic, and smarter incarnation of the Bush formula.
So we've got some buzz. So who is George Allen? Shakespeare's Sister did some spadework here, finding that the guy's got a hard conservative voting record, which is true. But he's a bit more interesting than that. Allen grew up in Palos Verdes, California, until his father moved to Virginia to coach the Washington Redskins. In 1982, he won a seat in the VA House of Delegates, in 1991 he won a seat in Congress, and in 1993 he got himself elected Governor, mainly by uniting the state's religious conservatives behind him. You see, then, why he's well cut out for Republican national politics.
His term as governor went smoothly, and he gained a reputation as a genial, optimistic guy with a habit of veering into hard conservative rhetoric. At the 1996 state convention, he said, "My friends -- and I say this figuratively -- let's enjoy knocking their soft teeth down their whining throats." Even so, he left office with 68% job approval.
After he was termed out of the governor's office -- VA only allows governors a single term -- he ran against Charles Robb for Senate. Robb had a fair amount of scandal following him and had just barely defeated Oliver North in 1994. Allen beat him pretty easily, 52%-48%. Once in the Senate, he became a leader on high tech issues, fighting to extend the ban on internet taxes, and then (and now) arguing to make it permanent. In 2002, he was picked to succeed Frist as head of the NRSC, and shortly thereafter he was a prime mover in taking down Lott and installing his predecessor as majority leader.
He's up for reelection in 2006, and term-limited governor and oft-mentioned Democratic presidential candidate Mark Warner is thinking of challenging him. Polls show the men about 4% apart, and a win would do much to help either one's profile. If Warner decides to skip a tough race and try and go right for the presidency, however, Allen will keep the seat and you'll find two former governors of Virginia gunning for the White House.
So what've we got? Allen's a genial guy with good people skills, an ability to appease the Religious Right, the capacity to raise cash from high tech funds (which probably means a good understanding of what the internet means and how to use it), a lot of goodwill from his work at the NRSC, and a ton of insider buzz. I watched him on MTP this morning and he was profoundly unimpressive -- Russert's questions regularly threw him off balance, his command of the issues seemed weak, and he made a major gaffe, suggesting that old folks sell their homes so they've more money for retirement and not as much landscaping to take care of. Oops.
So watch Allen closely, but I wouldn't get too excited. The guy's got neither George Bush's macho charisma nor Bill Clinton's empathic abilities; he comes off like a regular guy, but not necessarily in an impressive way.