RICHMOND, Va. – Desperate to pull his re-election campaign from a six-week tailspin, Sen. George Allen aired a two-minute ad across Virginia just before prime time Monday — a short speech aimed at saving his political career.
The embattled Republican bought time in every television market to shift attention from a string of damaging developments beginning Aug. 11, when he called a man of Indian descent "macaca," an ethnic slur in some cultures, through claims last week that he used a common racial epithet against black people.
The ad opens with Allen noting the campaign's recent drift away from "the real issues you care about" and acknowledged that "Some of this I've brought on myself."
"But the negative personal attacks and baseless allegations have also pulled us away from what you expect and deserve," he said.
With his wife, Susan, at his side and a Washington Redskins helmet and a portrait of his late namesake father and football coach behind them, Allen recounted signature events of his term as governor — parole abolition, more stringent Standards of Learning testing for Virginia students and welfare reform.
He noted his "energy independence" initiatives, including opening Alaska's North Slope to oil company drilling, and boosting math and science curricula nationally.
Then he buttressed President Bush's intent to keep U.S. troops indefinitely in Iraq until that country's fledgling government can stanch sectarian bloodshed that threatens to plunge it into civil war.
"I want our troops to come home as soon as possible. And I want them to come home in victory, not defeat," he said.
Strategists for the former governor decided to take the dramatic step Saturday, a day after a statewide survey by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. showed Allen and Democrat Jim Webb deadlocked at 43 percent each. As late as July, Webb trailed Allen by 16 percentage points.
"The Allen campaign knows that the direction this campaign has been going the last month has been very damaging for them," said Robert D. Holsworth, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. "They're very anxious about the direction of his numbers."
Also on Monday, Webb began his biggest ad purchase yet, a 30-second spot that features two retired military women rebutting claims in an Allen ad aired last week.
"Jim Webb is committed to creating opportunities for women," Clara Adams-Ender, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general, says in the ad.
Ads Allen began airing last week featured female U.S. Naval Academy graduates who said they suffered hostility and humiliation at Annapolis because of a 1979 magazine article Webb wrote that said women could not lead men in combat and decrying their admission to the academy.
Webb will spend about $650,000 weekly to air his ad statewide, matching what Allen spent on his ads last week, said Webb spokeswoman Kristian Denny Todd.
Monday's ad, however, is unique in Virginia political history. The only comparable use of one-time, statewide advertising was in 1987 when Republican Sen. Paul Trible announced he would not seek re-election.
Allen will pay about $50,000 to simulcast the ad once, from 7:58 p.m. to 8 p.m., on one television station each in the Norfolk, Richmond, Bristol, Roanoke and Washington, D.C., markets. About $30,000 of that is for the time on WRC in Washington, which broadcasts to the populous northern Virginia suburbs both candidates are targeting.
Allen wanted to do the ad live, but the costs and logistical arrangements would have been prohibitive, campaign advisers said. It was taped over the weekend.
Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta, said Allen's strategy makes sense considering the unfavorable coverage of unflattering and bizarre developments in the campaign.
"This would be an opportunity for him to redefine the issues of the campaign and give voters his side of the story unfiltered by the media," Black said.
Black said Allen's unusual address-to-the-people ad is comparable to Richard Nixon's famed "Checkers" speech in 1952 in which Nixon denied allegations of improper campaign financing and kept his spot as Dwight Eisenhower's running mate on the GOP presidential ticket that year.
Steve Jarding, Webb's campaign strategist, initially offered to make Webb available to reporters after the telecast, then said Webb would not comment.
"We're not going to put Jim Webb on to respond to this," Jarding said, calling Allen's ad embarrassing and arguing that it was unworthy of coverage.
"You guys are being used by those fools over there," he said.