3) Virginia Senate primary sets the stage
Former Virginia Governor and Senator George Allen handily swept the Republican primary on Tuesday, setting up a highly contested and carefully watched election against former Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine.
The results were expected, but the race followed a somewhat different trajectory from other races we’ve seen this cycle. In Indiana, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock rode a wave of anti-incumbent and anti-Washington insider sentiment to handily defeat longtime Indiana Senator Dick Lugar. A similar sentiment appears to be shaping up in the Wisconsin Senate primary, where the initial front-runner, former Gov. Tommy Thompson, is being cast as a Washington insider, and is losing ground to former Rep. Mark Neumann, a conservative candidate with tea party support.
But Allen, whose record seems to cast him as a Washington insider, went all but unchallenged by his most prominent tea party opponent, Jamie Radtke. Radtke failed to gain much traction at all, losing to Allen by over 40 points.
In part, said Geoff Skelley, a political analyst at University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, this is because the two other candidates running in the Republican primary were also tea party candidates, making it more difficult for Radtke to unite conservatives who were displeased with Allen.
But the big part is that Virginia Republicans don’t view Allen as a Washington insider.
Radtke tried to cast Allen that way when she first announced, said David Shephard, who writes the politics blog The Virginia Gentleman, but it “didn’t ring true,” even “with most tea party activists.”
Shephard endorsed Allen in the primary.
“George has always had an anti-establishment air about him,” echoed Michael Meredith, a longtime Republican activist in Virginia. “It’s kind of his genre. He’s always run against the crowd. And a lot of people remember him for that … he’s not a team player for the establishment, never has been. Don’t think he ever will be.”
“Allen cast some bad votes, but the tea party didn’t really see him as part of the problem, so it just didn’t sell,” Shephard said.
“Allen has done a good job of remaining popular among most of the conservatives in the state of Virginia,” said Skelley. “He was a very, very popular governor … and Allen was considered this great reformer when he was governor.”
“There’s a certain connection, a certain level that people still have for him despite a few bad votes,” said Shephard. “And Radtke just wasn’t able to turn him into the villain.”
His time spent in the Senate, Skelley added, did not come close to approaching Lugar’s 35 years in office.
Though Allen made what Republicans call “bad votes” during his time in Senate, “a lot of still remember what a great governor he was, and because of that, there’s sort of an amnesia on the Senate record,” Shephard said.
The general election between Kaine and Allen will be closely watched, in part due to Kaine’s close ties with Obama. Moreover, who wins the Senate race is closely tied to which presidential candidate picks up Virginia’s 13 electoral votes.
“If Romney carries Virginia, Allen wins. If Obama carries Virginia, Kaine wins,” Shephard said. “It really is totally driven by the top of the ticket – you’re not gonna have many ticket splitters.”