During a tour of small businesses on this town's quaint West Main Street, Susan Allen introduces herself to a female passerby and encourages the woman to support her husband George's U.S. Senate bid. After chatting, the woman notices Allen's opal ring and asks if it is her birthstone. No, she answers with a smile; it was simply a gift from her husband. "It's just George being sweet."
Now he is competing for his old seat in one of the closest and most closely watched races in the country. His political comeback depends on appealing to a broader and more diverse electorate than he needed in past elections -- namely, women and independents. The campaign has been working to soften Allen’s image, and to introduce a more personal side of a man prone to putting his cowboy-booted foot in his mouth. And no one can sell this aspect of George Allen better than his wife, whom advisers and political observers call his greatest asset.
“If he wins this race, it’s in large part thanks to her,” says Ford O'Connell, a Virginia-based Republican strategist who worked on the McCain-Palin campaign four years ago. “She helps soften some of the reservations people may have. It’s a little bit about ‘Hey, you trust my wife.’ . . . I think she is really one of the best things going for him on the campaign trail.”
The presidential race in Virginia could very well determine the results of down-ballot races in November. Analysts, though, say they can much better imagine a Kaine-Romney split than an Allen-Obama scenario, which doesn’t bode well for the Republican Senate contender. It is difficult to tell yet if Susan Allen’s efforts are moving voters. “If Allen wants to make this a race [in which] people disregard what’s going on at the top of the ticket, it’s going to be his wife that helps him do it,” says O'Connell, the Virginia strategist.