Not long ago, George Felix Allen was among the three or four Republicans most likely to win his party's 2008 presidential nomination. He was a known quantity: Virginia governor, then U.S. senator, a conservative with a pleasant demeanor, and a loyal supporter of President Bush. He had attracted top campaign talent. His campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, had guided John Thune to an upset victory over Senate minority leader Tom Daschle in 2004, and was widely expected to run Allen's presidential operation once his new boss glided through to reelection. Prominent Republican operatives, including Ed Gillespie and Mary Matalin, were backing Allen's reelection. And Allen was a talented fundraiser with dependable sources of cash.
It was easy to document Allen's political promise. Throughout 2005, a National Journal "insiders' poll" named him the frontrunner for the nomination. In August 2005, Chuck Todd, editor of the Hotline, wrote in the Washingtonian that "inside the GOP, there's a sense that if you put Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush in a blender, the resulting concoction would be George Allen." That November, National Review editor Richard Lowry opined that Allen "perhaps has a better chance of winning the nomination than any other Republican." This sentiment carried over into the summer of 2006, when the American Spectator's David Holman wrote that "a familiarity with George Allen explains his presidential contender status: notable biography, solid political record, and affable demeanor." Kathleen Antrim, a conservative columnist who is working on a biography of Allen, told me she came up with the idea for the book shortly after the 2004 election, when she looked at the possible 2008 Republican presidential field and said, "Who else could it be?"
As it turns out, a bunch of folks. In recent weeks, Allen has gone from presidential contender to embattled senator. His mishandling of a name-calling incident, and his ham-handed denial and subsequent revelation that his mother was raised Jewish, have almost eliminated him from the field of serious presidential candidates and even jeopardized his Senate seat. While still trailing in the polls, Allen's Democratic opponent, the author and former secretary of the Navy James Webb, has pulled within striking distance. This reflects a substantial swing in public opinion; until recently Allen's lead over Webb was in double digits. Also until recently, a group of senior Republican consultants met regularly to discuss Allen's strategy for the upcoming presidential campaign. Today, those meetings are devoted exclusively to helping the senator win reelection. Having just stepped out upon the national stage, George Allen now finds himself in danger of being shuffled off of it.
Allen was born in March 1952, in Whittier, California. His father, George Herbert Allen, was the football coach at the local college. (Richard Nixon is the school's most prominent alum.) Allen's mother Etty was a French immigrant from Tunisia who had met George H. Allen in 1950, during a trip to Sioux City, Iowa, where she was visiting friends. When they met, George H. was head coach at Morningside College. "She was introduced to me by the head of the speech department," he told Washington Post reporters William Gildea and Kenneth Turan for their 1972 book The Future is Now, "at a, what the heck kind of thing was it, it was a play, a play at the community theater." Soon after, George H. flew to Tunis to propose. They married in 1951.
"I grew up in a football family," Sen. Allen likes to say. It was an itinerant upbringing. From Whittier, the Allens moved to Los Angeles, where George H. worked for one year as an offensive coach for the Rams. From L.A., the family moved to the Chicago suburbs, where George H. apprenticed under the legendary George Halas, the founder, owner, coach, and onetime player for the Bears. From Chicago, it was back to Los Angeles, where George H. became head coach for the Rams. Eventually, the Allens would leave Los Angeles for Washington, where George H. coached the Redskins.
Through all these family moves, football was the constant. It was the family religion. At age four, George F. got his first football, the modified kind typically used to train future quarterbacks. "It was at least twice as heavy as normal," he told the Washington Post in 1981. George F. was a natural quarterback. His senior year in high school, he led the Palos Verdes team to a 7-2 season. He earned athletic scholarships to UCLA and Princeton, opting for UCLA but only staying there a year. When his family moved to Washington, Allen followed, matriculating at the University of Virginia. He quarterbacked at UVA, too, but he wasn't quite up to the college game.
The main source of information about Allen's youth is his sister Jennifer, the youngest member of the family and the only daughter. Jennifer Allen became a writer for the Washington Post and in 2000 published a memoir, Fifth Quarter, about her upbringing. "The best book about football I've ever read," the novelist Pat Conroy blurbs in the paperback edition. If that's true, then Conroy hasn't read many football books. Fifth Quarter is mainly a catalogue of Jennifer Allen's boyfriends, and an in-depth account of the author's complicated feelings toward her father and her ambivalence about her mother. There is nothing ambivalent about her feelings toward her oldest brother: "I was so happy during the summer of 1969," she writes. "My brother George was leaving home."
Fifth Quarter's early chapters focus on Jennifer's life as an 8-year-old in a testosterone-heavy household--featuring George as well as brothers Greg and Bruce. Jennifer spent most of her time alone in her walk-in closet, "my only quiet and private place in the house." It is clear she lived in fear of her oldest brother George and his friends, who "had the same pork-chop sideburns, greasy-haired scalps, and almost the same broken-toothed look as the inmates on George's favorite album, Johnny Cash, Live from Folsom Prison." In one oft-quoted passage, Jennifer Allen writes:
We all obeyed George. If we didn't, we knew he would kill us. Once, when Bruce refused to go to bed, George hurled him through a sliding glass door. Another time, when Gregory refused to go to bed, George tackled him and broke his collarbone. Another time, when I refused to go to bed, George dragged me up the stairs by my hair. George hoped someday to become a dentist. George said he saw dentistry as a perfect profession--getting paid to make people suffer.
While no one disputes the facts contained in Fifth Quarter (George F. vetted the manuscript before publication), such passages seem designed to present an unflattering picture of the future senator. For one thing, time is condensed; years might have passed between the episodes described. For another, most people know that young siblings get into fights. They say dumb things. And sometimes they accidentally hurt each other badly. It is plain that George was a little wild growing up. "Sen. Allen was a rambunctious kid," David Snepp, Allen's press secretary, told me. "He probably gave heartburn to his mother."
In the early 1970s, while he was at UVA, Allen had little idea what career path to follow. An undergraduate history major, he had no plans to enter politics. "At the time I wanted to be an architect or a lawyer," Allen told THE WEEKLY STANDARD's Fred Barnes earlier this year. "All my ideas of what I wanted to do: lawyer, architect, also possibly getting into ranching or farming. And the architecture, which I still do like, just had too much mountain to it. And so I went to law school."
During the summers, Allen worked on a ranch out West, where he developed his affection for cowboy boots. Another habit, dipping snuff, he acquired from hanging out at Chicago Bears training camps. Allen says he had a youthful interest in politics. He supported Goldwater in 1964, a position that puzzled his parents. Richard Nixon was a friend of his father's from Whittier. And Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, attended L.A. Rams practices, where he was introduced to George F., then in high school.
In 1976, while studying law, Allen received an invitation from conservative activist David Keene to become chair of Young Virginians for Reagan. "They all knew I liked Reagan," Allen told Barnes. "They said, 'You'll do fine, just tell people why you like Ronald Reagan.'" Reagan won the Virginia primary that year, but went on to lose the nomination to incumbent Gerald Ford. But the lessons and thrills of Reagan's insurgent campaign stuck with the young volunteer. Allen was slowly entering the world of electoral politics.
A year later, Allen graduated from the University of Virginia law school. By this time, his family had made the decision to return to California. Allen chose to stay in the Old Dominion. He had come to love the commonwealth's history, its landscape, its people. "I was going to go into a partnership with someone in Charlottesville in an old building built in 1814," he told Barnes. "Mr. Jefferson played the fiddle there, allegedly. I bought this old building." Soon after, his prospective partner opted out of the arrangement. Allen was alone. He renovated his new property himself. "I lived in it while renovating," he said. There was no shower. "I started my law practice and then bought a log house out in the country, in the woods. Charlottesville is where I wanted to take my stand."
His first stab at elected office--a campaign for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates--came in 1979. He lost. "In the midst of it I played an alumni football game," Allen said in the interview. "I was fine doing quarterback." The play called for an on-side kick. "I did a running start." They were playing on astroturf. "One of these mammoth varsity players cross-body-blocks," Allen continued. "My knee gets swept around. I end up with an operation, a blood clot in my calf, and I'm running for the House of Delegates. That's not why I lost, but it was generally an all-around miserable year. I learned a lot." Allen was also perturbed that his advisers "made me buy wingtips and shiny belt buckles."
In 1982, in a special election, Allen made another attempt at the House of Delegates. "I won by a whopping 25 votes," Allen said. He had won Jefferson's seat. George H. was with him on Election Night. When they learned he had won, the family cheered. "My father said, 'Gosh, this is as good as beating Dallas!'" Allen has won every election since.
In early July 1991, Rep. French Slaughter announced his retirement from Congress after three terms representing the Seventh District of Virginia. Allen was the first person to announce his candidacy for the seat. Slaughter's son also made a play, but withdrew after it became clear he couldn't overtake the frontrunner. Allen won the Republican nomination. The themes he articulated then would dominate his career for a decade: "The issues in this race," he said, "are promoting the work ethic through workfare instead of welfare, protecting law-abiding citizens and victims instead of coddling criminals, fighting against higher taxes and wasteful government spending, and looking out for Americans first."
The Democrats nominated Kay Slaughter, a cousin of the retiring congressman. The most contentious issue in the special election was the Persian Gulf war, which Allen supported and Slaughter opposed. Allen ran an ad that featured a photograph of Slaughter next to a photograph from a Washington, D.C., antiwar protest in which activists had held up a banner declaring "Victory to Iraq." Slaughter said the ad was sleazy. She lost, 62 percent to 34 percent.
Allen was sworn in the next week. After the ceremony, he said, "I have not come to be a member of a club, but rather to fight for the taxpayers of Virginia. We need to cease class warfare and petty partisan bickering to get this economy moving forward." About a week later, however, state Democrats announced a gerrymander plan that would erase Allen's district and force him into a primary against Thomas Bliley, a Richmond Republican. Allen's career had reached an impasse. One option was district-shopping, but he knew he was unlikely to defeat Bliley or Frank Wolf, another popular Republican congressman, in a primary election. At the end of his term, he returned to private practice and prepared to run for governor.
Democrats had held the governor's office in Richmond throughout the 1980s. In 1993, in the contest to replace the popular L. Douglas Wilder, the first African-American elected governor in the United States, Allen faced Democratic attorney general Mary Sue Terry. He started the race behind. It was a hard-fought, tough, and sometimes abrasive campaign. Terry attacked Allen's position on abortion. He was never the sort of conservative who placed values issues front and center, and his stance on abortion was muddled. In a general election debate, Terry said, "I'm pro-choice, and my opponent is multiple-choice." In the same debate, Allen said that in the early stages of a pregnancy, it is "a woman's election" to decide whether or not to abort her child. Later, to the Washington Post, Allen described his position as one of "reasonable moderation." That, along with Allen's positions on crime, welfare, and education, appealed to voters. He won, 58 percent to 41 percent.
There ought to be little argument that Allen was one of the most successful governors of the 1990s. He abolished the parole system as promised, signed into law a parental notification abortion statute, and shepherded to passage a welfare reform plan that eliminated benefits after two years on the dole. He signed into law the Standards of Learning (SOL) education reforms, the model for President Bush's No Child Left Behind act. Allen, who criticizes No Child Left Behind on federalism grounds, likes to point out that the standards he championed are far tougher than Bush's. The best evidence of Allen's success as governor came in 1997, when Virginians elected his handpicked successor, Attorney General James Gilmore, governor on a tax-cut platform.
Allen and his advisers considered a presidential run in 2000, but decided against it, as George W. Bush appeared unstoppable. Instead Allen ran for Senate, challenging the incumbent Democrat, former governor Charles Robb. In this race, too, Allen started behind. And in this race, too, he overtook the frontrunner and won. It is worth noting, however, that Allen's margin of victory, for a man who had spent two decades in Virginia politics, was not wildly impressive. He ran even with Bush in 2000, beating Robb 52 percent to 48 percent.
Throughout his career, Allen has sought to govern by the principles of what he calls "common-sense Jeffersonian conservatism." In March, when I asked Allen what this meant, he said, "It means I trust free people." As a symbol of Virginia's heritage, and as a model for self-government, Jefferson has served as the touchstone for Allen's politics. "I look at Reagan as a modern-day Thomas Jefferson," he told me. Then, unprompted, he quoted from Jefferson's 1801 Inaugural Address: "The sum of good government is a wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another but otherwise leave them free to regulate their own pursuits of industry. And the government shall not take from the mouths of laborers the bread they've earned."
The Senate has frustrated Allen. He said it surprised him "how long it takes for them"--his fellow senators-- "to get things done." He went on, "They're the most collegial bunch of folks you'd ever want to meet. I'd never seen more people take so much time to make a decision. They need action."
Allen is less a skilled legislator than a talented executive. One day, I asked his press secretary to name the senator's top three accomplishments. The items he named seem thin branches from which to hang a presidential bid. "First of all, he's kept the Internet free from taxation," Snepp said. "Second, he was able to pass the nanotechnology research and development act. And third, he's also very proud of other technology initiatives," including legislation to provide federal technology grants to historically black colleges and universities. "And," Snepp added, "he's also been very proud in supporting U.S. troops fighting the war on terrorism."
On the campaign trail, Allen's efforts to provide grants to historically black institutions are mentioned whenever he is accused of racial or ethnic insensitivity, which has happened twice so far in 2006. In its May 8 issue, the New Republic published a cover story, entitled "Pin Prick," which argued that "before he runs for president, George Allen has to run against himself." The article's author, Ryan Lizza, reported extensively on Allen's apparent youthful interest in, and seeming enthusiasm for, the Confederacy, which included hanging a battle flag in his living room during his successful 1993 Virginia gubernatorial bid (part of a collection, Allen says) and hanging what appears to have been a noose in his law office (part of another collection, Allen says).
Lizza also brought up Allen's past support for Confederacy history month in Virginia; his 1984 vote against a state holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.; the pick-up truck he drove in law school, which featured a battle flag bumper sticker; and a Confederate-flag lapel pin Allen appears to be wearing in a high-school yearbook photo. All that, and Allen was a big fan of the country variety television show Hee Haw, which ran on Saturday mornings when he was a teenager.
Among the chattering class, the article caused much discussion, and from the senator's aides it sparked a vigorous counterattack. "I think this is an example of a very liberal magazine searching desperately to find something they can hang on Senator Allen," Snepp told me shortly after the New Republic story appeared. One outside adviser called Lizza's piece a "so-called" profile. Though no one seemed to dispute the article's facts, the implication remained that "Pin Prick" was nothing more than a recycled, partisan hatchet-job. And in this case, the Allen campaign's response appears to have been effective. It marshaled the evidence to show Allen was in no way a racist. In a September 12 speech to the "Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference Luncheon," Allen elaborated on his "own journey" to racial understanding.
"I grew up in a very different universe from most folks," Allen said in the speech. "I grew up in a football family (with an immigrant mother), and in football, your race, ethnicity, and religion do not matter. What matters is how well you can punt, pass, kick, block, run, or tackle. What matters is whether you can produce on a level playing field, and help the team win! It is a true meritocracy, and that level playing field is what America should aspire to be." Allen went on to discuss his relationship with David "Deacon" Jones, the Hall of Fame defensive end who played on his father's Rams and Redskins teams in the 1960s and 70s. "What football, and my father, and Deacon Jones, among others, taught me," Allen said, "is to treat people as individuals and look at what is inside, not outside."
Every "personal journey" has a starting point. In the speech, Allen never mentioned his, although one assumes it was his past ownership and display of Confederate symbols. Those days, however, are long behind him. Last week, one outside adviser sent me a seven-page white paper of Allen's "African-American Accomplishments." These included, as governor, "safer communities," "enterprise zones," an "urban revitalization initiative," support for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, support for Black History Month, appointing a "significant number" of African Americans to state government posts, criticizing discrimination against black farmers, funding the Virginia Slavery Museum in Jamestown, "authoring a resolution" at the 1997 National Governors' Association meeting condemning church burnings, welfare reform, education reform, and support for hate crimes legislation. As senator, Allen has, among other things, cosponsored a resolution condemning the Senate for failing to pass anti-lynching legislation, and hosted, along with Georgia Democratic congressman John Lewis, two civil rights pilgrimages--one to Alabama, the other to Virginia.
All this may strike some as overcompensation, an overwhelming response to a perceived political weakness. In any case, the response seems to have worked. Most of the accusations leveled in the New Republic article were ignored or dismissed. Allen's reputation--such as it was--remained intact, and by summer his reelection to the Senate seemed assured.
Then he visited Breaks.
Breaks, Virginia, is in Dickinson County, in the southwestern part of the commonwealth, near the Kentucky border. It is a small community, and relatively poor. In 2000, according to the census, the county's population was slightly more than 16,000 people, including 70 "hispanics" and 58 "blacks." The census calculated median household income at $23,431 in 1999 dollars. Breaks is a beautiful, historic, and conservative part of rural Virginia--the sort of place that led George Allen to fall in love with the state three decades ago.
On August 11, as part of his annual "listening tour," Allen visited Breaks and spoke to supporters at a local park. Among those observing Allen deliver his stump speech was a "tracker" for the Webb campaign. On the campaign trail, tracking is a common phenomenon. A low-level staff member for the opposing candidate follows a politician around, recording everything he or she says and does. For a long time, trackers used pad and pen. Today, it is typical for them to film a candidate with a video camera. That day, Allen decided to incorporate Webb's tracker into his speech.
"My friends, we're going to run this campaign on positive, instructive ideas," Allen said, as the videotape shows. "And it's important that we motivate and inspire people for something."
He turned and pointed at the video camera.
"This fella here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca or whatever his name is, he's with my opponent, he's following us around everywhere."
Someone in the crowd laughed, and Allen paused and smiled.
"And it's just great. We're going to places all over Virginia"--Allen turned once more to the camera and pointed--"and he's having it on film and it's great to have you here, and you show it to your opponent." Presumably Allen meant "my" opponent. But the crowd got the point. Someone clapped, and Allen continued: "Because he's never been there and probably will never come." People cheered. "So it's good to have you here," Allen went on--and here the tape is garbled because of the cheers and applause--"rather than living inside the Beltway or--his opponent actually right now is with a bunch of Hollywood movie moguls." Laughter. "We care about fact, not fiction."
Allen turned back to the camera.
"So welcome. Let's give a welcome to macaca here. Welcome to America, and the real world of Virginia." A pause. "Now my friends, we're in the midst of a war on terror . . . "
"Macaca" was Shekar Ramanuja Sidarth, known by his surname, or "Sid" for short, a 6-foot-4-inch tall 20-year-old student at the University of Virginia who grew up in the northern Virginia suburb of Fairfax County. Sidarth's father, a wealthy mortgage banker, immigrated to the United States from India a quarter of a century ago. His mother came shortly afterward. Growing up, Sidarth attended the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a prestigious Fairfax County magnet school, where he earned a 4.1 grade point average, a 1550 SAT score, and participated in chess club and the Spanish Honor Society. Sidarth, like Allen, played high-school football. He is a Democrat, but his politics seem centrist. In addition to supporting Webb, he contributed $2,000 to Joseph Lieberman's 2004 presidential campaign.
He is also curious. As Sidarth tells it, after the Breaks event he sought out a dictionary and looked up "macaca," which he found refers to a genus of monkey, and in certain cultures is used as an ethnic slur. Offended, he circulated his video among some liberal bloggers. In a few days the Washington Post got interested in the story. And before he knew it, Allen had a scandal on his hands.
There are a variety of reasons Allen's encounter with Sidarth has become the defining moment in his campaign. One is the increasingly important role technology plays in fashioning our politics. Sidarth's video gained an audience when he posted the "macaca" clip on YouTube, an Internet video clearinghouse. It was a group of loosely affiliated liberal bloggers who brought the video to the attention of traditional reporters. And the video lends itself to television, where a viewer can't help finding it strangely compelling: the absurdity of a professional politician mocking a twenty-year-old campaign volunteer; the goofy, triumphant grin on Allen's face as he welcomes "macaca" to America; the casual, unknowing ease with which Allen moves from committing a potentially career-ending gaffe to a canned discourse on fighting terrorists.
A second reason is the incredible amount of coverage the Washington Post devoted to the controversy. According to the Lexis-Nexis research database, prior to August 15, 2006, the only mention of "macaca" in the Post occurred in a June 2003 "Travel" piece that mentioned the famous monkeys of Gibraltar. Between August 15 and September 18, however, the Post mentioned the "macaca" incident some 44 times. During that time, "macaca" appeared in seven front-page (A1) news articles. It appeared in six front-page "Metro" (B1) articles. It appeared in no less than three editorials and one op-ed column. This sort of coverage is what reporters mean when they say "flood the zone."
But a significant reason "macaca" took on a life of its own was the Allen campaign's clumsy damage control. At first, the campaign ignored the story, then it said the publicity devoted to it was evidence of liberal media bias. The campaign said Allen might have been referring to Sidarth's silly haircut, then said the senator had never heard the word before. When asked in a recent televised debate whether, growing up, he might have heard his mother say "macaca"--everyone seems to think that in North Africa "macaca" is an everyday word--Allen said, "I hope you're not trying to bring my mother into this matter," and ignored the question.
What's more, Allen waited almost two weeks to apologize to Sidarth. And every day an apology was left unsaid was a day the Post could run an article with a headline akin to Allen Still Hasn't Apologized to Victimized Young Adult. Now Allen finds himself doing little besides apologizing. Indeed, in September, he apologized for macaca, the Confederate flag, and everything else he's ever done that might be construed as "insensitive." "The point is, symbols matter, they should matter, and this is something that I wish I learned a lot earlier," he said. "Even if your heart is pure, the things you say and do and the symbols you use do matter because of the way others may take them."
And yet, whether on the part of Allen or his opponents, the rhetorical linkage of the senator's past fascination with the Confederacy and his singling out of Sidarth is misplaced. If Allen was guilty of anything in the Breaks speech, it was being an oaf, not a racist. And even what the incident showed about Allen's personality is not the most important reason for the "macaca" scandal's long life. That reason is, while Breaks might be the "real world," more and more of Virginia is taking on the cultural, social, demographic, and economic conditions of the parts of the state where S.R. Sidarth was born and raised. Allen got into trouble not because of his appreciation for Virginia's past. He got into trouble because he found himself at odds with Virginia's future.
For much of its history, Virginia's politics have been turbulent and unpredictable. But since 1968 a few trends have been clear. Conservative Democrats dominated the commonwealth's politics for much of the 20th century. The archetypal Virginia politician before '68 was the governor and senator Harry F. Byrd, whose family ruled the state's Democratic machine with a mixture of economic populism and racial segregation. But in the 1968 presidential election, Virginia threw its vote to Richard Nixon, and no Democrat has received its electoral votes since. The next year, in 1969, A. Linwood Holton Jr. was elected Virginia's first Republican governor since Reconstruction. A series of Republicans followed in the 1970s, but in the 1980s, while Virginians were voting for Ronald Reagan by substantial margins, they also elected a series of conservative Democratic governors. And the statehouse remained solidly Democratic.
In the 1990s, that partisan split broke down. Allen's election as governor ushered in a new era of Republican dominance. In 1997, Republicans won contests for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. In 1999, Republicans captured the House of Delegates and the state senate. In 2000, with Allen's election to the Senate, both of Virginia's U.S. senators became Republicans. By the turn of the century, there was little doubt that Virginia was a Republican state. Realignment had occurred.
Or had it? In 2001, cell phone magnate Mark Warner, a Democrat who had lost narrowly to Sen. John Warner in 1996, won the governor's race. Last year, he was followed by another Democrat, former lieutenant governor Tim Kaine. In presidential and gubernatorial contests since 2000, the strongest GOP showing has been George W. Bush's 54 percent of the vote in 2004. Virginia has reverted to its voting patterns of the 1980s, electing Republican presidents and Democratic governors.
With one notable difference. Virginia is growing, and it is growing into the sort of state--with high numbers of professionals, immigrants, and singles--that tends to vote Democratic. If you look closely at northern Virginia--the richest and most populous region of the commonwealth--the changes are dramatic. In Fairfax County, Republicans went from narrowly winning the presidential vote in 2000 (48.9 percent to 47.5 percent) to losing it in 2004 by a considerable margin (46 percent to 53.3 percent). Democrat Mark Warner won Fairfax County in 2001 (54.4 percent to 44.9 percent), but Democrat Tim Kaine won it by an even bigger margin (60.2 percent to 37.9 percent) in 2005.
While inner suburbs like Fairfax County (and Arlington and Alexandria) continue to trend Democratic, so too do Washington's exurbs. Prince William County, south of the nation's capital, is filled with Republican voters. At least, it used to be. Bush won there in 2000 and won again in 2004. But Prince William voters have shifted their gubernatorial votes. In 2001, they voted for Republican Mark Earley 52.4 percent to 46.8 percent. In 2005, though, they voted for Democrat Tim Kaine, 50 percent to 48 percent.
Why? Census Bureau statistics suggest that Prince William County is becoming more like Fairfax. Its population has increased. In this period, Asian and Pacific Islanders living there have gone from 3.9 percent to 6.8 percent of the population, and Hispanics have gone from 9.7 percent to 18.1 percent--a huge jump. Prince William County, too, is richer: Median household income was $65,960 in 1999 dollars in 2000. In 2005 it was $81,904.
The same pattern can be found in Loudoun County, west of Washington. Bush won Loudoun in 2000 (56.2 percent to 40.9 percent), but in 2004 he won it while losing points (55.5 percent to Kerry's 43.4 percent). Republicans' share of the gubernatorial vote in Loudoun has also declined steadily. In 1993, Allen won 58.6 percent of the vote there. In 2001, Mark Earley won the county with 52.9 percent. But in 2005 Republican Jerry Kilgore lost Loudoun, 46 percent to 51 percent. Again, demographic changes play a role. The Census Bureau estimates that Loudoun County experienced an amazing 50.7 percent growth in its population between 2000 and 2005. During this time, the number of Asian and Pacific Islanders grew from 5.4 percent to 11.6 percent of the population, and the number of Hispanics grew from 5.9 percent to 9.3 percent.
As the exurbs become more like the inner suburbs--multiethnic, professional, and rich--it is likely they will begin to vote like them, too. And more of Virginia is coming to resemble its wealthy north. Last week, in an email, the demographer William Frey, currently a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, told me, "The flight toward affordability is extending northern Virginia demographics southward--in effect, shrinking the traditional base." Frey's analysis supports that of John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, who write in The Emerging Democratic Majority that "if these suburban"--and now exurban--"voters keep increasing their proportion of the Virginia vote, and if they continue to trend Democratic, they could very well tilt Virginia back to the Democrats, even in presidential elections."
No doubt demographics are important. But candidates matter too. And a few months ago, Allen was one of the most talented Republican politicians around. Always smiling, upbeat, he seemed to have a message designed to appeal equally to Virginia's rural and technocratic voters. In March, I accompanied Allen to the Infineon semiconductor fabrication facility outside Richmond. As we approached the plant, Allen told me how, as governor, he was able to lure investors to build the facility. Back then, Allen found himself in competition with Ross Perot, who wanted the plant in Texas. Allen won. He called the plant "my favorite monument in the Richmond area."
Allen is far wonkier than he appears. At the Infineon facility, his speech was littered with references to "solar-voltaic" batteries and "coal liquefaction" and "dynamic random access memory chips." He told the audience, "We are falling behind in this country as far as broadband access." There was a certain hokey charm in his delivery, and most of the employees gathered in the Infineon cafeteria seemed to respond well. Allen seemed a smart and harmless man who wanted to do his best for his people.
Allen has put all his energy into his political recovery. On a recent Saturday, post-"macaca," the Fairfax County Republican Committee held its Third Annual Ethnic Community Campaign Kick-Off Rally in the Edison High School auditorium in Alexandria. Outside the school, a few protesters milled about. One wore a gorilla suit. This was Hunter "Patch" Adams, M.D., the self-described "doctor/activist/clown" who served as the inspiration for an eponymous 1998 Universal Studios movie starring comedian Robin Williams. At more than six feet, with half his pony-tailed hair dyed indigo, what looks like the jawbone of a small mammal dangling from his left ear, and a gorilla mask nestled in his furry arm, Adams is a striking figure. He is also angry.
As a fellow protester, Anna Banana, waved and smiled at the Republicans entering the high school, Adams told me how the protest came about. "We represent democracy," he said. "Racism is not a family value. We wanted to address the history of Sen. Allen." The gorilla costume, Adams added, was his idea. "I made it in 1971." It seemed to fit the "macaca" moment.
"The most disturbing thing is that he chose to isolate a kid," said another protester, from nearby Falls Church. Later, the activists' PR guy, Bill, handed out a press release. It quotes Anna Banana as saying, "Allen has a long history of racist attitudes and behavior."
You wouldn't have known that, though, from speaking to the people inside the crowded auditorium, who made up an incredible collection of hyphenated Americans. According to the event program, there were, in alphabetical order, Afghans, Africans, Bolivians, Chinese, Colombians, Cubans, Filipinos, Indians, Iranians, Koreans, Pakistanis, Peruvians, Puerto Ricans, Salvadorans, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese--all waving American flags, carrying balloons, and wearing buttons embossed with the names of local Republican political figures.
A local party activist named Gary, a retired engineer who recently returned from an overseas vacation, told me he paid no attention to the protesters. Gary is white. Sen. Allen's verbal slip-up, he said, was excusable, even understandable. "He felt too relaxed and slipped. It came out the wrong way," Gary said. Then he paused and smiled. "Sometimes I get into trouble like that, too."
Onstage, Puneet Ahluwalia, a northern Virginia businessman, introduced Allen, who launched into a cheerful and enthusiastic mangling of greetings in the native languages of those assembled, racing through each phrase, stumbling over diphthongs and glottal stops, and barely pausing to acknowledge the audience members, who laughed, yelled out corrections, and cheered. It was a pleasant scene: a run-down school auditorium filled with delighted Americans, young and old, and a veteran politician who still was smiling. And here, for the moment, no one had any questions about Allen, race, or ethnicity, and the protesters outside might as well have been a thousand miles away.
Then the moment passed. On September 17, Allen debated Webb on NBC's Meet the Press. The consensus among Washington Republicans was that Allen lost the debate soundly. Dean Barnett, a conservative blogger, wrote on radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt's website that, "for conservatives wishing for Allen to retain his seat, their best hope is that Virginians were otherwise occupied this morning or that the state's NBC outlets were having technical difficulties." Allen's positions were muddled. He refused to say whether he supported the president's or Sen. McCain's stance on terrorist interrogations. He refused to say whether he would serve a full term if reelected to the Senate.
The next day, Allen and Webb debated again, this time in front of a paying Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce audience at the McLean Hilton. Among conservatives, the conventional wisdom is that Allen won this second debate, but that since it took place in the middle of a weekday, he will be unable to reap the benefits of victory. This is wrong. While Allen might have had a good showing substantively, the story that emerged from the debate was his irate reaction to WUSA-9 television reporter Peggy Fox's question on a recent report in the Forward that he might have been descended, on his mother's side, from the Lumbroso family of Sephardic Jews.
Fox embarrassed herself by asking the question as though she were the grand inquisitor at a show trial. But Allen embarrassed himself too, first by standing there, agape, staring at Fox for asking the question, then by refusing to answer it. Worse, Allen lied. He told Fox, "My mother's French-Italian with a little Spanish blood in her. And I was raised as she was, as far as I know, raised as a Christian." It turns out, of course, that the report in the Forward was accurate; by the end of the week, Allen had admitted that his mother informed him in late August that she was raised a Jew. Etty Allen said that she had asked her son to keep her heritage secret, which might have led to his dissembling at the Chamber of Commerce debate.
Still, Allen's move to embrace this newly uncovered part of his heritage has been flawed. He clumsily joked to the Richmond Times-Dispatch that his mother's Judaism is "just an interesting nuance to my background" and "I still had a ham sandwich for lunch. And my mother made great pork chops." His campaign quickly accused Webb supporters of anti-Semitism for posting video on weblogs of Allen's reaction at the McLean Hilton debate. But this attack was silly. Webb's supporters weren't criticizing Allen for his heritage; they were publicizing his fumbling attempt to cover it up. As this goes to press, the issue shows no sign of disappearing.
In recent days Allen has been recast as a sort of bumbling phony, confused about his identity and his message. His encounter with S.R. Sidarth and his campaign's lame response tripped him up, but that was only the beginning. Steve Jarding, a Democratic consultant and adviser to Webb, said that what hurt Allen most about "macaca" was that it subverted his image as a likable guy. "Ninety percent of Virginians are aware of that tape, according to our polling," Jarding told me. "It cast a doubt on everything George Allen built up over 25 years."
In the past, one of Allen's strengths was his forthrightness and consistency. "He's just authentic," Mary Matalin told me earlier this year. "We're in the era of authenticity. He's serious, but he's comfortable. He doesn't get rattled. He doesn't tap dance." Matalin might have been right at the time, but not anymore.
Allen's advisers still believe the dynamics of this race favor the incumbent. They say his long record in Virginia helps quell any new questions or doubts about his competence. And they are changing strategy. The campaign has gone negative sooner than expected, running attack ads on Webb's views on, among other things, women in the military (some of which he expressed in these pages). "I think that what we're starting to get is a sense of the core of James Webb," campaign manager Wadhams told me last week. "And it's not pretty."
In the coming weeks, Allen expects to introduce new policies, hoping to change the conversation, directing the debate toward domestic and economic issues on which Webb is weak. And Allen has the money--some $12 million, dwarfing the $1.1 million Webb raised through June 30--to ensure a presence on radio and television.
Webb adviser Jarding says the race will come down to money, and that if the Democrat raises enough to reach near parity with Allen on the air, he will win. In the race this is becoming, however, money may be less important than usual. So far, free media have dominated the campaign--the stories on macaca, the Lumbrosos, and so on--and this will only continue if Allen keeps performing as badly as he has in recent weeks. If nothing changes, November 7 is sure to be the defining test of Allen's three-decade-long political career. If he fails, it will be only partly because the Virginia that captured his heart as a young man is slowly vanishing. Mainly it will be because of Allen himself.
Matthew Continetti is associate editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.