Monday, October 09, 2006

NFL Week 5 Recap

1. Bills (2-2) at Bears (4-0)- W
2. Browns (1-3) at Panthers (2-2)- L
3. Rams (3-1) at Packers (1-3)- W
4. Titans (0-4) at Colts (4-0)- W
5. Lions (0-4) at Vikings (2-2)- L
6. Dolphins (1-3) at Patriots (3-1)- W
7. Buccaneers (0-3) at Saints (3-1)- L
8. Redskins (2-2) at Giants (1-2)- W
9. Chiefs (1-2) at Cardinals (1-3)- W
10. Jets (2-2) at Jaguars (2-2)- W
11. Raiders (0-3) at 49'ers (1-3)- L
12. Cowboys (2-1) at Eagles (3-1)- L
13. Steelers (1-2) at Chargers (2-1)- L
14. Ravens (4-0) at Broncos (2-1)- W

Week 5 score: 8-6, once again (57%)
Overall score: 42-32 (57%)

Virginia U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

October 9, 2006
29 Days Until Election Day

Virginia U.S. Senate

Status: Republican Incumbent
2004 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Leans Republican

With the commonwealth’s proximity to the Beltway and the national ambitions of the incumbent candidate, the U.S. Senate contest in the Old Dominion has become catapulted into one of the most hotly contested races and closely watched national races of this election cycle.

Republican Senator George Allen’s victory back in 1993 as Governor of Virginia foreshadowed much of what was to come for his party the next year. During his four years as Governor, Allen proved to be a popular chief executive with a conservative record and optimistic attitude that even back then prompted many conservatives and pundits alike to compare him to a young Ronald Reagan and the belief quite early on was that Allen would one day be a potential candidate for President.

In 2000, Allen ousted a Democrat Senator of national prominence in what was a rare success for his party in Senate contests that year. Over his past six years in Washington, Allen has gone about gaining chits from conservative activists around the country and received plaudits for his tenure as the NRSC Chairman in the 2004 general election cycle. All the while though, Allen expressed some boredom with the slow pace of Senate action and expressed a longing for the time when he was able to make things happen as a chief executive. It became seen as a foregone conclusion that Allen would run for President in 2008, and in many circles, he was regarded as the best bet to win the nomination. First though, he needed to ensure he was reelected to a second term in the Senate.

After the 2004 elections, Democrats pinned their hopes on term limited Governor Mark Warner, but he too had national ambitions and decided that he would not be able to run for President in 2008 even if he ran against Allen and either won or lost. Polls showed that the popular Warner would have been very competitive in a Senate race and thus some Democrats were disappointed when he quickly took himself out of the running. Allen led every other Democrat in the state in polling and several other somewhat well known party members also declined to make the race. As the months started to pass, it looked like Allen would have a bit of a free ride after all.

However, an effort began to entire an intriguing potential candidate into the race. Jim Webb, a noted author, who had for a while served as Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan Administration would eventually decide to run against Allen in a bit of a surprise development. Webb, who had alternated in his public career between supporting Democrats and Republicans, had backed both George Allen and George W. Bush in 2000, but became disillusioned with the GOP over the Iraq War. As his campaign began, Webb’s opposition to the U.S. presence in Iraq made him a bit of a rock star among liberal bloggers who believed that Webb’s past Republican affiliations and his status as a Vietnam War combat veteran who liked to talk about how he was “born fighting” would give him gravitas on national security issues, which tended to bedevil many other Democrats running in conservative states such as Virginia.

While there was some consternation that Webb was not a true blue Democrat, many prominent figures in the party and throughout the grassroots lent their support to him as he would go on to win a fairly competitive primary against a lifelong Democrat business named Harris Miller, who spent a great deal of personal money on the race. In one chapter of that primary which received some raised eyebrows, the Webb campaign had released a cartoon flyer attacking Miller, who is Jewish, in a way that some perceived to be anti-Semitic. In spite of that episode though and some anger on behalf of Miller, the defeated Democrat lent his support to Webb.

The general election campaign began with Allen holding a solid lead in the polls and with a massive cash advantage over Webb. Still though, Democrats were very enthused about the prospect of the pugnacious Webb being enough of a factor to force Allen to focus on running for office in Virginia instead of taking as many trips to the early Presidential primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. While a long-shot victory for Webb would have all but ended Allen’s Presidential hopes, the feeling was also that a less than impressive victory by Allen in a race he was expected to win, could have long-lasting damage to his future political career. Allen backers took the position that a solid victory in the 2006 elections by their candidate over a darling of the Daily Kos crowd, in what was becoming a race of national political interest, would be something that could be useful in establishing Allen’s credentials as a more impressive national figure. When the two candidates met for their first debate, most gave the edge in performance to the incumbent, who got in some good zingers and was able to embarrass Webb on a couple questions related to the challenger’s less than stellar knowledge of some local Virginia issues.

Nobody expected what would occur late in the summer though. In a ten second span of the campaign that George Allen would probably give anything to have back, he referred to a young Indian-American Webb staffer, who had been trailing him with a video camera as “macaca”, a term that was quickly pointed out to have negative racial connotations in some parts of the world. The video of the incident, which occurred as an Allen campaign rally, quickly made its way onto the internet and television and Allen was bombarded with a barrage of criticism and bad press. During some awkward apologizes and explanations, Allen insisted he had no idea what the word meant and that he meant absolutely nothing related to race or ethnicity by using it. Some found that claim hard to believe and much national attention began to focus on some previous accounts of Allen throughout his life and public career being less than sensitive towards African-Americans on racial matters.

While Allen was the primary sponsor of a Senate bill apologizing for the historic atrocity of lynching, and while he has some prominent endorsements by black Democrats in this race, the Senator was seriously thrown on the offensive by questions related to his use of the Confederate flag as a High School student and other more recent examples of anecdotes that could give the impression that he was either tolerant of racism or less than concerned about it. A liberal online publication would run a story that had some former football teammates and other associates, mostly unnamed, of Allen quoting him as using very offensive racist language back in the 1970s and early 1980s in the context of some sensational stories involving such things as severed deer heads being stuffed into mailboxes. Allen vigorously denied those accounts, and a large number of people who knew the Senator in those days vouched for his character, but it remained a feeding frenzy for several days. Among all that was also the incident of the disclosure that Allen had recently been told by his mother that she came from a Jewish family. Many criticized the way that Allen seemed to react to a question about that in a recent debate.

The effect that the macaca incident had on Allen’s reelection campaign was unmistakable. Polls, which had showed Allen leading Webb by double digits, began to show a much closer race. While no traditional poll has shown Webb in the lead, some polls showed the race within the margin of error and Democrats believed that momentum was clearly on their side for an upset victory that might tip the balance of power in the Senate. While the most recent Gallup poll still shows the Allen lead at a very tight three points, a few other polls show that Allen has perhaps rebounded a little to a lead ranging between 6 and 11 points, with the incumbent right around the 50 percent mark. Perhaps no other political figure was as grateful for the Mark Foley scandal becoming the new national obsession, as it all but knocked the allegations of Allen having been a racist off of the front page of political news.

As for Jim Webb, he has found himself in the somewhat awkward position of benefiting from an opponent’s gaffe and trying to find a balance of how to best exploit the event without looking to overeager. Many Republicans believe that the Webb campaign, particularly those who work in the blogosphere, are directly behind the stories and allegations surrounding Allen and racism. Citing the very questionable flyer the Webb campaign used in the primary, Allen’s campaign also has claimed that Webb might be behind bringing the matter of the religious history of Allen’s mother and has expressed a belief that a strain of left-wing anti-Semitism exists within the Democrats’ campaign. Needless to say, the Webb people have taken great issue with that charge.

Webb has not been immune to questions about his own character though as he has in the past spoken fondly of the Confederacy and has written books which contain the n word, although the candidate insists that he has not personally used the word, a claim that is disputed by some who knew Webb several decades ago. Most notably though is the allegation that Webb has expressed a degree of sexism in his public life back many years ago when he took serious issue with the idea of women in military combat units and claimed that women who wished to attend the U.S. Naval Academy were merely horny. Webb apologized for that line but unlike Allen’s apology for the macaca gaffe, has not fully walked away from what he wrote about women in the military. The Allen campaign has run ads featuring women who had served in the Navy, speaking out against Webb for his long ago comments and claiming that they caused them strife while serving their country. Republicans on Allen’s team have even tried to insinuate that Webb has a record of disrespecting women because of the recent example of his ignoring the somewhat extraordinary plea of Nancy Reagan to pull a campaign ad which the former First Lady believes unfairly implies that her late husband had endorsed Webb for political office.

All of this mudslinging and focus on personal foibles and shortcomings has put issues somewhat on the back table in this race and Virginians might well be forgiven if they are a little sick of the campaign already and the harshly negative tone it has taken. Allen would very much like to focus more on his stances on economic and national security matters which he considers to be a plus in a usually Republican on the federal level state like Virginia. Webb also would like people to think of him as a tough talking former Marine who wants the election to be a referendum on the War in Iraq. Both candidates probably relish seeing their opponent face character questions but also feel they have the ability to score points based on their stances and the contrast it presents with their opponent.

While Democrats are heartened by how close the race has become and cite the victories by Democrats in the state’s last two elections for Governor, the recent polls, most of which show a bit of an Allen lead, seem to indicate that the incumbent probably has a bit of an edge. Republicans will point to the fact that many people believed that Virginia was going to be a nail biter in the 2004 Presidential election, and some polls backed that assertion up, but when the voting occurred, the state wound up colored red quite early in the evening.

As long as Allen does not make another serious political gaffe on the campaign trail, he probably will manage to eke out a win by anywhere from 5 to 15 points on Election Night. In spite his recent problems, he still has a record as a successful vote getter in the state who people have tended to view as substantive and likeable, while Webb still comes across at times as stiff and somewhat dour in campaign settings. The political dynamics of the state still probably favor Republicans but parts of the state such as Northern Virginia are becoming a bigger factor in the states’ overall voting and have shown more of a move toward the Democrats.

It will be seen as at least a modest surprise if Webb actually turns up as the victor on November 7th, and such an event would likely be part of a large national trend for the Democrats that would see massive gains for the party across the country. In contrast, national Republicans and Allen will breathe a sigh of relief if the incumbent comes out on top. If that happens, the questions will then really start being asked about how if Senator Allen was indeed wounded enough in this battle, mostly by his own doing, to no longer be a viable Presidential contender. Many pundits and political observers have already counted him out for the 2008 Presidential sweepstakes and indeed the damage may be too much to overcome for Allen, at least in the short term, as Republicans are likely to want to support a candidate they believe is the most electable and not overly gaffe-prone.

Nonetheless, Allen’s inner circle might hold out some hope that having overcome a major political firestorm in 2006 would make such questions about racial matters less of a surprise factor in 2007 and 2008, and thus easier to deal with at that time.

Allen campaign link:

2006 Senate races predicted thus far: 16 D, 13 R
Post-election Senate balance of power predicted thus far: 43 D, 53 R