By Paul Goldman
Did Jim Webb’s decision not to run rob George Allen of the biggest motivating force behind his Senate candidacy? I say this because Allen has missed some easy lay-up opportunities over the past week, indicating to me that he’s not fully in campaign mode. Of course, it is unusual for someone in Allen’s position to run for Senate six years later. Still, the old George Allen would never have missed the dunk shots laid at his doorstep since Webb dropped out. Politics is art, not science. Right now Allen’s strategy is robotic, not creative. That’s an important tell.
George Allen is a competitive guy. One of the biggest motivators for Allen to take on Webb in 2012 would have been to avenge his loss to Webb in 2006. This is the oldest motivator in sports — to avenge a previous loss to the same team. If you can’t understand that, you can’t really understand jocks like George Allen.
In this case, by refusing to get into the ring, ex-boxer Jim Webb took away the very thing that has motivated Allen for the last 4 years. It would be like Allen’s father losing in the Super Bowl to Dallas, and then Tom Landry retires, with Dallas moving to Richmond (don’t laugh, the Mayor has promised pro football or at least some other sport, because it is a “Tier One city” like Dallas or Washington.)
Rivalries are key for sports enthusiasts, and Webb vs. Allen certainly qualifies as a rivalry. In contrast, beating Tim Kaine might be more like kissing your sister, another sports cliche, for George Allen.
So let’s ask this question: With Webb out, what is the chance that George Allen will not suit up next year? It’s not as if Allen was ever keen on the Senate (that’s not exactly news, he said it himself).
I realize this seems impossible right now. But a race against anybody but Webb is like a knife in the heart to a sports jock. The Brooklyn Dodgers didn’t just want to win the World Series, they wanted to beat the Yankees. Beating any other team would have been a huge letdown.
Now, with Jim Webb out, George Allen has to adopt to an entirely new mind set. Those of you who have never really been involved in that kind of thinking and campaigning may not appreciate the situation now facing Allen. But no question, Allen was running to defeat Webb; winning a Senate seat was simply a consequence.
Now, George Allen has to run to win a Senate seat, even though he has no grudge with Tim Kaine — or Tom Perriello for that matter.
Based on his campaign so far, it is going to be Tim Obama vs George Allen. A race like that will be Republican default mode; Allen will get the votes any other R would get.
Truth is, the best person to run against Tim Obama/Tom Obama/Whomever/Obama is not George Allen. Instead, those kinds of campaigns are best when you have a new face who can take the base anti-vote and create his/her own constituency. Ken Cuccinelli will find that out when he runs. It’s just the nature of the political beast.
It would have been Jim Webb vs George Allen, that’s what he wanted. Mano-on-mano. By running in 2006, Jim Webb blocked Allen from returning to the Senate. It would be quite an irony if Webb now did the same thing by deciding not to run.
The bottom line: running against Tim Kaine is not what George Allen had in mind the past four years. Ironically, running against George Allen is exactly what Democrats have been thinking about for the past many months.
Prediction: It is going to take George Allen some time to get over his second loss to Jim Webb, this one being the chance to avenge a defeat. This one might prove harder than he thinks.