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Fresh Faces?

Virginia Senator Jim Webb is retiring.  The Atlantic has the bloggy rundown.  The speculation seems to be pointing to a George Allen-Tim Kaine showdown of former governors.  I'm not sold on either candidate without looking at alternatives.

I though Allen was overrated as a candidate even before 2006.  It isn't that he is a bad candidate exactly.  The Republicans have, in the last decade run plenty of candidates who were less principled, less competent or both.  Macaca comment aside, there is just something about Allen that feels out of sync with the moment.  He was a classic three-legs-of -the-stool conservative (economic conservative, social conservative, national security conservative) back when just securing voters with preexisting center-right commitments was enough to win in Virginia.  I don't think that is the case anymore.  That doesn't mean conservative Republicans can't win high profile races, but it does mean the game has changed.  Virginia Republicans would probably be better off with a solidly conservative but wonky and persuadable voter-oriented candidate like Bob McDonnell who is able to reassemble the older conservative coalition and win over suburban voters who shift between the parties.  Then again, Virginia Republicans might not have another McDonnell in their ranks.

I also think Kaine is weaker than he looks. The Virginia Democratic governors of the aughts built their brand partly by differentiating themselves from the national Democratic Party.  Kaine might poll well now, but his role as Democratic National Committee Chairman means that he won't be able to put any daylight between himself and the Obama agenda.  Good luck explaining Medicare cuts, cap-and-trade, public funding of abortion (yeah, I know it is complicated but I would love to see him try to talk his way out of it), and trillion dollar annual deficits. I also don't think Kaine is all that great a candidate.  He was succeeding a very popular Democratic governor, the Virginia Republican Party was a mess and the 2005 environment was brutal for Republicans (Bush had a 40%  RCP average job approval rating for November 2005.)  I really doubt that Kaine will have so favorable an environment next year or that he will be as appealing a candidate to moderates.

Both parties might be better off with currently less well known candidates.  Assuming of course that those candidates don't have even bigger weaknesses than the former governors that people are currently talking about. 

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