Senator makes local stop on ‘listening tour’ to mingle with supporters; B1
(Daily Staff Writer)
FRONT ROYAL — He could be a front-runner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, but you can’t tell it to hear him talk.
U.S. Sen. George Allen, R-Va., kicked off his 2005 “listening tour” with a stop at the North Warren Fire and Rescue hall, where he shared a barbecue lunch with supporters Monday and took questions from the crowd.
Allen, cited by many as a likely contender to succeed President Bush in 2008, wouldn’t bite when reporters asked about his future intentions and his thoughts on being considered near the top of the GOP heap.
“It’s very nice, it’s very encouraging that people say all that, but I’m focused on doing my job … as a United States Senator from Virginia,” he said.
Allen is running for office, but it’s for the job he has now. Up for re-election in 2006, the Democratic Party has yet to put forward a candidate. But speculation is rampant that Gov. Mark R. Warner may run.
Recent polls have found that Warner could knock off the incumbent.
“There’s no doubt that the Democrats have a bull’s-eye on my back,” Allen said.
As the former chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee that helped knock off the “chief obstructionist” Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., beating him would be sweet revenge for the minority, the state’s junior senator said.
“They’ll try to get a self-funded, multimillionaire to run,” Allen said in a thinly veiled reference to Warner.
That’s one reason the campaign has been passing the hat in Virginia, even in a state election year.
“We have done fundraising in Virginia, but we’ve made an effort not to do an excessive amount,” Allen said. “People can only be picked over so much.”
The former governor was reticent to criticize a recent decision by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
In a speech on the Senate floor late last month, Frist said he would support a bill that would allow federal money to be spent on research involving stem cells derived from embryos, under strict rules.
Current law bans any federal money for research that requires the destruction of embryos.
“That’s his point of view,” Allen said. “I have my own point of view.”
Present benefits being derived from non-embryonic stem cells are more than enough to justify federal funding, Allen said.
Also, both the states and private interests have come up with billions of dollars to drive embryonic research without federal help.
Allen also talked with reporters about the big picture of federal spending. Deficits in the hundreds of millions of dollars are a problem, but not a bigger one than national security, he said.
“In times of war there are extraordinary expenses. It’s not as if we’re not going to pay the troops, upgrade their armaments or buy more ammunition. That has to be done,” he said.
Still, there are areas that have to remain levelly funded or cut, he said. Deficits need to go down.
“We’ve got to get the economy working stronger, more people working and businesses prospering,” Allen said. An energy bill signed by President Bush on Monday will help the situation by stimulating the economy.
The bill will also help the country make better use of its coal stocks, a major source of employment in Southwest Virginia.
“We are the Saudi Arabia of coal,” Allen told the crowd, adding that he would support an effort to get the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge opened to oil exploration through the federal budget process.
While it couldn’t win approval in the energy bill, rules prohibit filibusters in the budget process.
“[Oil exploration] can be done very safely on the North Slope [of Alaska],” Allen said. “It won’t bother a single mosquito.”