HANOVER, Va.—As U.S. Sen. George Allen travels across Virginia this month on a “listening tour,” more than a few people are listening to what Allen says, and how he says it, for clues to his political intentions.
Officially, the Republican senator is riding around in an RV to reconnect with voters in advance of his 2006 reelection campaign. He said the tour, a reprise of the campaign-style trips he took as governor of Virginia in the 1990s, gives him a chance to hear directly from his constituents.
“It’s great to get out of Washington, D.C., and get out with real people in the real world,” Allen said at a stop at the historic Hanover Tavern on Monday. “It’s good to hear people, get ideas and concerns.”
But Allen also is being talked about as a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008. The intense, two-week trek across every region of the state offers the junior senator a chance to hone messages and themes he could use in a full-fledged presidential campaign.
He criticized President Bush’s No Child Left Behind program for forcing Virginia to “dumb down” its curriculum standards and vowed to fight efforts to expand it.
“We’ve worked too hard to have the federales come in here and foul up what we’ve done down here,” Allen said to hoots and howls from the audience.
In response to audience members’ questions, Allen also hinted that illegal immigration will be a focus of his campaigning.
Allen said the federal government must spend more on border security and must improve the system of legal immigration to encourage people to come to America and find work legally. And he said he opposes proposals by Bush and some members of Congress to offer amnesty to illegal immigrants.
“We should not reward illegal behavior,” he said, “by granting those here illegally with a track toward citizenship.”