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Senate Rerun Victories Very Rare

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Former Virginia Sen. George Allen is running for his old seat, but historically he has a formidable headwind.

It was a verbal gaffe that caused Allen’s biggest stumble in his 2006 campaign, when he referred to an Indian-American Webb campaign volunteer who had been tracking him with a camera as “macaca.”

The flub marked the beginning of a YouTube campaign era and became a persistent problem, in part because Allen didn’t handle it well.

On Monday, Allen told the Virginia blog Bearing Drift that he regretted the remark, considered to be a slur in some cultures.

“I needlessly brought a college student who was following me around, all over Virginia, into the race, and I should not have,” Allen said. “He was just doing his job, and I should not have made him part of the issue. And I regret it.”

On a conference call with Virginia reporters Tuesday, Webb refused to comment on Allen’s candidacy and said he was still consulting with his family about whether to run for a second term. He highlighted the fact that it is an eight-year commitment at this point.

“I feel like we’ve done a lot of good since I’ve been in the Senate,” Webb said, noting his leadership on criminal justice reform and America’s relationship with Southeast Asia. “It’s been good, I hope, for the people of Virginia. I think they feel that way, and I enjoy serving my country.”

While ex-House Members make it back to the chamber fairly often, Allen’s comeback attempt has a higher historical bar.

Another potential rematch this year had been between Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and former Sen. Jim Talent (R), whom she defeated in 2006. But Talent is not expected to run. 

One recent unsuccessful effort was made by former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.), who tried in 1996 to win back his seat from Sen. Paul Wellstone, the Democrat who defeated him six years earlier.

Gorton, who was best friends with Boschwitz in the Senate, made it back after only a two-year absence. Like Boschwitz, Allen is running after a six-year hiatus, which Gorton said was tougher. Not since former Sen. Chapman Revercomb
(R-W.Va.) in 1956 has a Senator sat out at least six years before returning. 

In an interview with Roll Call, Boschwitz said he felt the break had done him good. “I felt refreshed after six years, and my time back in the private sector gave me a good perspective and put the whole Senate in perspective,” he said.

“My advice is get good consultants, put together a good organization on the ground and raise the money that will allow you to define your opponent,” Boschwitz said. “You just have to be prepared and hope that the year will be better than 2006.”

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