By Paul Goldman
There are two ways to read the recent poll on the 2012 Republican Senate nomination, assuming you believe the Public Policy Polling survey is credible. (1) the poll shows George Allen to be the overwhelming favorite even when tested against potential heavyweight challengers. This seems to be the consensus view in VA politics from both left, right and in the middle.
Or: (2) he is vulnerable to a challenge from an unknown, new age conservative “young gun” in the today’s post-Bush Tea Partying GOP electorate. This possibility is being dismissed by the gurus of conventional wisdom.
“Your strength is your weakness” is the old Chinese proverb. In an all-comers match-up against Eric Cantor, Kenny Cuccinelli, Bill Bolling, Bob Marshall, et. al, George Allen leads the field with 46%, his closest pursuers being Eric and Kenny boy in the middle-teens respectively, all the others in low, single digits. The former Governor and Senator’s years of being a top player has made him, as RTD columnist Jeff Schapiro astutely noted, the Establishment Conservative favorite, quite ironical for the guy who came to statewide attention as the anti-establishment rebel challenging Democratic Governors.
This big lead led PPP to find the son of legendary NFL Coach George Allen Sr. to be the overwhelming favorite for the nomination, indeed the polling outfit suggested Allen was so far ahead, why not just anoint him right now?
My reaction: The reason for actually letting voters decide is admittedly quaint but sensible. Mr. Allen only got 46%, which is less than 50% and thus roughly half of those sampled presumably are open to at least considering a conservative “young gun”, should he or she emerge as a credible challenger in a head-to-head challenge.
PPP totally dismissed the roughly 1/3 of their sample who voted for either Eric or Kenny boy since those guys aren’t running. But of all the stats in their poll, this one is the most important. Neither of them has the statewide profile of Mr. Allen, nor has ever been mentioned before as a serious Senate wannabe. In polling terms, they are stand-ins for a generic “young” gun who in theory had reached their level of political profile within the GOP electorate. Thus, given that analysis, Allen only lead by a 46-34 margin. Why is this important?
If PPP had published a poll with George Allen vs Sarah Paulson [my mythical hot shot businesswoman from Roanoke County, a youngish 42 with solid new age conservative street cred in the GOP] showing the former Governor and Senator up only 46-34 on this new “young gun” unknown, it would have sent political shock waves across the state. .
A poll taken today is basically an ID contest. Allen, once the rebel, is the stand in for the Old Establishment Face of GOP conservatism. In 2012, it is a safe bet that George Allen will be the only non-incumbent running in the GOP primary having supported the full Monte of the George Bush Economic Plan, not just the tax cuts but also all the budget deficits, debt increases, earmarks, huge government spending, on and on. Moreover, his position on the abortion issue among other social issues leaves room for a challenger to get to his right.
Having worked with him to in trying to help pass the Webb-Warner education bill that would save Virginian’s billions while fixing up so many of the incredible number of outmoded school facilities in our state, I have seen Allen in his element as a retail campaigner. He genuinely likes people and it shows.
He is a good politician in that regard, and someone who understands the give and take of the Senate. But his strong suit isn’t the kind of razor-blade politics that dominate today. Allen was conservative, even very conservative while in office, but he wasn’t an anti-establishment conservative as a U.S. Senator because the GOP controlled the Congress and the Presidency.
Bottom line: As a Senator, George Allen voted for a lot of things that can not be defended to the swing voters in a GOP primary in the Tea Party era. Moreover, with the 2012 GOP Senate primary slated to happen a few months after the 2012 GOP presidential primary, this means the conservative base will have been juiced up by what is going to be a race to the right by all the Republican presidential contenders.
Thus, the table is going to be set for a new, dynamic, take-no-prisoners “young gun” to come out six-shooters blazing, running hard to George’s right, with a list of all the possible primary voters fresh in hand thanks to the presidential contest. It will not take a lot of money to be a force, just the willingness to run to George’s right and the ability to achieve a certain level of credibility. Once an underdog challenger gets past that marker, he or she will be a free media magnet, and the digital space will be a buzz.
So let’s recap.
George’s big advantage right now is not the 46% poll number but the fact neither of the two biggest “young gun” threats, Eric and Kenny boy, are running. Delegate Bob Marshall, who almost pulled off a huge upset in the 2008 GOP Senate nomination battle, can talk the talk and walk the walk with social conservatives, but he has yet to demonstrate the ability to challenge Allen among economic conservatives who are going to be the key swing voters if the economy is still the big issue in 2012. If there is a new Dick Obenshain out there, the legendary original VA “young gun” conservative, a brilliant guy who would have been the first GOP Senator had he not died in a plane crash after winning the party’s 1978 Senate nomination, then George Allen is going to have fight for the GOP nod.
Coach George Allen, Sr, as brilliant a defensive thinker as the game as had, would know this instinctively and be working on ways to make that hole in the line never came into play. But I don’t sense such a game plan from the actions of Team Allen right now.