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George Allen’s Second Act

Can he put a political disaster behind him?

Jun 25, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 39 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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He purses his lips, breathes in, and answers deliberately. “It was a mistake. I never should have drawn that young man into it.” Suddenly, Allen smiles, his eyes brightening, as if he’s just thought of something.

“Once in a while I’ll drag someone into it,” he says, as if it’s a good thing. “There are times I will call audibles.” He had done so just a few days before, when giving a speech. He spotted in the crowd a Chinese immigrant and business owner he had met a few weeks earlier. Allen cajoled the man, Kai Zhang, into joining him on stage.

At their first meeting, Zhang had explained to Allen that corporate taxes were now lower in China than in the United States. “Tell them what you told me,” Allen said, pushing the clip-on microphone in front of Zhang’s face.

“I want the United States to do better than China,” Zhang said in slightly accented English.

“That’s just great,” Allen said, slapping him on the back. “I just love that.”

But Allen usually stays on script. His stump speech emphasizes his interest in energy policy and always includes a dig at Obamacare—which Allen describes as a “government takeover of health care.” There are plenty of nods to America’s “entrepreneurial spirit” and the need to reduce federal regulations. And he quotes the typical Virginian as pleading, “Get the government off my back and out of my pocket.” 

Allen often reminds voters of the successful reforms he pushed through as governor in the 1990s: elimination of parole, welfare reform, truth in sentencing. It’s a laundry list of policies from what seems like a political lifetime ago, but the campaign says if the election turns on a comparison of his tenure as governor with Tim Kaine’s (2006-10), Allen will win.

There’s another young, South Asian-American Democratic staffer with a video camera following around the Allen campaign these days. At a senior center in Prince William County, I tell him he has some big shoes to fill. He laughs, but agrees. The more disciplined and focused George Allen of 2012 just isn’t as exciting as he was six years ago. Until he decides to call an audible.

Michael Warren is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.

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