The name Ron Johnson probably doesn’t mean much to the average voter in Virginia. But U.S. Senate candidate George Allen (R) wasn’t necessarily looking to impress the “average” voter when he announced Johnson’s support of his campaign and then brought him on the stump with him Friday in Richmond.
Johnson (R-Wisconsin) is a wealthy businessman who ran a largely self-financed campaign to sweep long time liberal Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) from office. Johnson received a great deal of support from the Tea Party and is happy to be associated with the movement.
A fiscal deficit hawk, Johnson supports deep spending cuts and is strongly opposed to the health care reform act and the federal stimulus.
Allen, on the other hand, has a lukewarm connection with Tea Partiers in Virginia. One reason: One of the most prominent Tea Party leaders in the Commonwealth, Chesterfield’s Jamie Radtke, decided to run against him in the upcoming Republican primary.
Allen has had a mixed success appealing to local Tea Party groups as he looks to seal up the nomination. He rarely appeals directly to the Tea Party but once said he was an “original member” of the party.
Allen’s biggest problem with the Tea Party comes from his last time in the Senate. Six years of supporting largely Republican-led proposals that bumped up the federal debt came during a period of time that hard-core Tea Party members are very critical of.
Johnson’s visit to Virginia allowed Allen's critics to remind voters about that time in office. Both Radtke on the right and Democrats on the left were all to eager to dredge up the past.
Radtke released a very critical web video that called Allen out for his support for “40,000 earmarks.” Web videos rarely have widespread appeal, but Radkte got a big bump when PolitiFact Virginia chose to rate the claim. Their “mostly true” rating pushed the video to a much wider audience.
Democrats, meanwhile, had a field day pointing out the mixed message Allen has had with earmarks, saying he was “proud” of the ones he had brought back to Virginia and said they were OK as long as they were accompanied by detailed information as to who proposed them.
Johnson worked to rein in the criticism of Allen at Friday's event at Bill’s BBQ in Richmond. He strongly supported the former governor and senator’s leadership skills. Johnson argued that while progress is being made in Washington, real change hasn’t occurred because Congress needs more people with Allen’s experience and ability to bring people together. He also said that Allen’s first go-around in Washington was much different than things are now.
“Last time George Allen was in the senate we had manageable deficits,” said Johnson. ”Nobody liked them at all, but at least they were manageable.”
Despite the lack of rousing support from the Tea Party, there is simply no evidence that Allen is suffering. The few polls taken on the GOP primary show him with very large leads, and he is neck and neck with his Democratic opponent, Tim Kaine, in just about every poll.
It is clear that Allen’s effort to reach out to that wing of the party is subtle. When we asked him about what role they will play in his election, he said they were important but went out of his way not to single them out.
“We are getting good support from a lot of folks,” Allen said, he went on to say, “We are welcoming every one to the A-Team.”
This won’t be the end of Allen’s effort, and it will likely continue beyond the primary. The Republican nominee, no matter who it may be, will want the passionate support of the Tea Party to help push him or her over the hump come November in what is destined to be a razor-thin election.
Ryan Nobles, an anchor at NBC12 in Richmond, Va., moderates the Decision Virginia blog. Nobles has been named one of America’s “Best State-Based Political Reporters” by the Washington Post. Politico recognized him as one of the “50 to Watch” political players in the U.S. You can read more from his blog by clicking here.