Which U.S. Senate candidate carries the Ronald Reagan mantle?

This week marks eight years since we said goodbye to Ronald Reagan. Actually, most of us said goodbye to him nearly ten years before when he wrote in 1994 of his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s Disease.

But we are still inspired Ronald Reagan, the man who along with Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul brought about the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism in Europe. Ronald Reagan, with eloquent words and a quick wit charmed the media and Democrats who hated him. Ronald Reagan remains a great Republican hero, and was arguably the best President in our lifetime. I had the privilege of working in DC during the last three years of the Reagan Administration and was fortunate enough to hear him speak on several occasions. Those were some great times.

It’s no wonder that candidates seek to portray themselves as someone who stands in the Reagan tradition, someone who espouses Reagan’s ideals. Even the current occupant of the White House has tried to portray himself as Reaganesque. That would be just sad if it were not so laughable. The only thing Barack Obama has in common with Ronald Reagan is experience in pretending to be someone he is not. Reagan did it as a profession. To Barack Obama, it’s personal.

In this year’s Senate primary in Virginia, all four candidates have invoked the name of Ronald Reagan. E.W. Jackson speaks highly of Reagan while Bob Marshall tells of working for Reagan in the 1980 election. Jamie Radtke takes it a step further and points to her endorsement by Richard Viguerie, whom Radtke’s website describes as “the man who bankrolled the Reagan presidential campaign in ‘80 and ’84.” Viguerie is a conservative icon in his own right, having pioneered the whole concept of political direct mail.

No word on whether Mr. Viguerie’s expertise has bankrolled the Radtke campaign, but it’s been pretty clear from the outset that, even though she might try to claim the Reagan mantle, Jamie Radtke forgot Reagan’s 11th Commandment, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”

But who in this race got his start in public policy based on a personal phone call from Ronald Reagan?

In 1966 George Allen, Sr. became the coach of the Los Angeles Rams. That same year, actor turned politician Ronald Reagan was elected as Governor of California. Also a football fan, as well as a player on the field and on the screen, Ronald Reagan used to visit Rams’ practices. There, a young high school student who would one day himself be called Governor, got to know Ronald Reagan. George Allen says he thought “there’s a politician who knows what’s important…football.” You see, George Allen’s love for football isn’t a shtick, it’s the real thing.

Ten years later, George Allen was a student at the University of Virginia, having moved to Virginia when his father accepted the job as head coach of the Washington Redskins. While he was there he got a call from Governor Reagan who was running for the Republican nomination against incumbent Gerald Ford. Reagan asked George Allen to head up “Young Virginians for Reagan.” Allen said he didn’t have the experience in politics but Reagan convinced him that he had what it takes. While Reagan lost the primary battle to Ford that year, he carried Virginia.

Three years after that primary, George Allen ran for Delegate and lost in a four way race. But in 1983, he won the seat once held by Thomas Jefferson. While in the House of Delegates, George stood strong for conservative principles. Norm Leahy recently wrote on Bearing Drift “Imagine my surprise to learn that George Allen was also leading a charge to audit the Federal Reserve.” While the measure passed the then Democratic controlled House, no small feat, it died in the Democratic controlled Senate.

Allen went on to a short term in Congress where he was redistricted out, but later returned to defeat two-term Attorney General Mary Sue Terry, coming from behind, but in the end winning the Governor’s office by some 19 points. Allen’s term as Governor was the beginning of a Republican Renaissance in Virginia. At the 1,000 day mark of Allen’s term, Frank Atkinson, author of the Dynamic Dominion wrote: “Although Virginia governors generally have pursued one or two major policy initiatives at most – and even Byrd and Godwin are each remembered for only two or three – Allen has pushed through landmark changes in five major areas.” Those areas were Criminal Justice Reform, Education Reform, Welfare Reform, Economic Development and Government Reform. Atkinson said, “Allen contends with good reason, that Virginia today is experiencing a renaissance. If so, the positive news is just beginning, because the effects of his initiatives in economic development, education and public safety will be felt primarily in the future.”

In 1997, in his last year as Governor, Allen signed into law a parental notification bill requiring parents or legal guardians to be notified if their minor daughter is going through the trauma of an abortion. I was honored to be there for that fight.

Chuck Robb was once thought invincible in Virginia politics, but scandals marred his term in the Senate. In 2000, in spite of Robb being the son-in-law of one of the country’s most notorious election vote stealers, Allen defeated him handily.

While in the Senate, Allen continued to be an advocate for Virginia families. Among other things he created the Competitive Caucus which sought to keep America the “world capital of innovation.” He was one of about a dozen Senators to vote against the Bridge to Nowhere. He introduced legislation and advocated for real budget reform, including a balanced budget amendment, a line item veto and a paycheck penalty for Members of Congress who failed to pass appropriations bills on time. Early in his term as Senator, Allen introduced the Internet Tax Nondiscrimination Act, which extended the ban on taxation of Internet access he promoted as Governor. He twice succeeded in extending that moratorium in Internet access taxes. Thanks to his efforts, that moratorium is in place through 2014.

Allen was unanimously elected as Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2003. In the 2004 elections, under George Allen’s leadership, Republicans gained four seats in the Senate, expanding the Republican majority to 55-44-1. Among those elected that year were John Thune of South Dakota, who ousted Tom Daschle and the Tea Party’s own Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

Allen lost his bid for re-election to Jim Webb in 2006. But on a night when Republican candidates were getting slaughtered nationwide, Allen lost by less than one percent in a race where the national Democrats and their friends at the Washington Post loved to hate them some George Allen.

Allen didn’t just go away after his Senate loss. He continued to fight for the principles in which he believes. He launched the American Energy Freedom Center which advocates for American jobs, economic prosperity and increased freedom. He currently serves as Young America’s Foundation’s Reagan Ranch Presidential Scholar.

Throughout this campaign, Jamie Radtke has turned attacking George Allen into an art form. She criticizes his record as Senator as well as his loss in 2006. In turn she points to the Viguerie endorsement to imply that she is the Reagan candidate in this race. But with Radtke it’s all black or white. She says it’s all about the spending. What then would she say of the Ronald Reagan legacy that raised taxes and spending?

You see, what Ronald Reagan knew was how to inspire and how to advance his agenda. He didn’t particularly like Tip O’Neill, but he knew he had to work with him. Reagan knew how to set realistic goals, and how to accomplish them. Radtke, on the other hand is advocating plans that just won’t work. True, Politifact said that the math in her debt reduction plan worked, but that it was “highly unrealistic.”

To paraphrase the Gipper, who himself was paraphrasing at the time, “We knew Ronald Reagan. And Jamie Radtke, you’re no Ronald Reagan.”

Neither is George Allen, and he’d tell you that himself. But the difference is that George Allen also knows how to get things done. He knows how legislation works. He knows how budgets work. And he knows that yes, while your principles never change, sometimes you need to look at things differently than you have before.

To Jamie Radtke, at least according to the way she’s run her campaign, that’s apparently not good enough. In her world, once a politician has voted what she believes to be the wrong way, there’s apparently no redemption, no going back. Ironically, if it had always been like that and views were never allowed to change, she wouldn’t be able to vote for herself next week.

But, wasn’t that what the Tea Party was all about? Wasn’t the grass roots movement built on getting politicians to change their views and their votes? If you succeed in getting a politician to change his views haven’t you already won?

With the Obama economy, gas prices, unemployment, terrorism, Jersey Shore…these have indeed been dark years for America. Reagan faced much the same following those years of Carter malaise, but he helped bring back Morning in America.

Ronald Reagan once said “Don’t let anyone tell you that America’s best days are behind her-that the American spirit has been vanquished. We’ve seen it triumph too often in our lives to stop believing in it now. ”

Likewise, George Allen has spent this campaign talking about his Blueprint for America’s Comeback. Allen says, “The America we knew growing up was one where we looked toward the future with hope and optimism, knowing we could only be limited by our imagination, ingenuity and diligence. We can be that country again.”

Of Reagan, Allen says, “Just over thirty years ago, newly sworn in President Reagan identified that the high unemployment, human misery, high taxes and high debt had to be turned around. He proclaimed ‘we are going to begin to act, beginning today.’ We should adhere to Reagan’s words and philosophy today as we face similar difficulties. He knew that to unleash America’s potential, people must be unburdened by government interference, unrestricted by onerous taxes and obstacles to innovation and creativity, and unobstructed by incentive-sapping laws and regulation.”

We have no way of knowing who Ronald Reagan would endorse in this race. But I suspect he would remember fondly that teenage son of his friend, the one he called to say “come help me out” and who became a foot soldier of the Reagan Revolution.

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