Magazine article Insight on the News

Republican Revolution in Miniature

Magazine article Insight on the News

Republican Revolution in Miniature

Article excerpt

Tip O'Neill said all politics is local. The GOP has decided to take that idea literally.

To Virginians going to the polls in November, the elections seem just another contest in the off-year electoral cycle, with the usual focus on the state legislature, which in Virginia is called the General Assembly. But to national political analysts this is the "election of the century," one that could herald the rise of a one-term governor to national prominence -- even a vice-presidential nomination.

Further south, the states of Mississippi and Louisiana have been under similar scrutiny. Louisiana's elections just ended with a few Republican gains but a still-steady Democratic majority in the Legislature. In Mississippi, the Republican National Committee gave $100,000 to help develop candidates for the Statehouse.

In a way, what is happening in these states represents the Republican Revolution in miniature. All three have legislatures that are controlled by Democrats; all three have looked ripe for Republican takeovers. They're the testing ground for the Republican National Committee's "Strategy 2000" -- a plan to take Republican majorities in every statehouse by the turn of the century -- which everyone seems to know about but no one seems to want to discuss. In any case, Republicans are out to replicate their 1993 congressional success across the country, bit by bit, state by state.

Nowhere is this Fabian strategy more determined than in Virginia, where Democrats have controlled the General Assembly for more than 120 years. Even the lieutenant governor, Don Beyer, is a Democrat. This year, Republicans only need to win a handful of seats -- three in the Senate and three in the House of Delegates -- to hold a majority. A Republican takeover, coupled with the conservative proposals of Republican Gov. George Allen, could well make Virginia the first "Contract" state in the union.

"These are just outstanding Senate races," says Dave Johnson, executive director of the Virginia Republican Party. "It's the largest field we've ever had."

Allen has been campaigning on behalf of Republican contenders all over the state and has set up a new political-action committee called the Campaign for Honest Change. The first PAC of its kind in Virginia, the Campaign for Honest Change has raised more than $14 million, including almost $1 million personally collected by Allen in the past six months. The Virginia governor has lent his considerable personal strength to these contests; he is tough-talking, telegenic, and emits a robust persona. While his rhetoric can be annoying to his Democratic opponents -- one of his memorable phrases referred to "kicking their teeth down their soft throats" -- there's no doubt that he packs a punch.

Many observers continue to say Allen is angling for his party's vice-presidential nomination, and has cast his sight across the Potomac River to Washington. Virginia governors only serve one term and must then take a three-year hiatus from statewide office; Allen's term will end in 1997, leaving him free to pursue upward political mobility. In a recent article in the Legal Times, Mark Plotkin, political editor for Washington radio station WAMU, wrote that Allen is "intent on being more than just a forgotten one-term governor... At the moment, he's not wellknown outside Virginia. But, come those November elections, he believes everybody will have to take notice of his political skills because, for the next month, Allen will be doing everything he can to pull off a political revolution."

Plotkin predicts that, in the event of a Republican takeover in his state, Allen would be the logical choice for a vice-presidential nomination, since his conservative views would balance a more moderate GOP ticket like one headed by Bob Dole. Sue Wrenn, chair of the Virginia Democratic Party, agrees, saying "Allen will use this to position himself as a good conservative running mate. …

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