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Allen romps to Va. GOP Senate primary victory

Wednesday - 6/13/2012, 4:31am  ET

AP Political Writer

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Former Sen. George Allen easily defeated three lesser- known conservative Republican challengers Tuesday in Virginia's primaries, earning a shot at regaining the seat he lost six years ago in a race both parties consider critical to controlling the U.S. Senate.

With 99 percent of the vote counted, Allen had 65 percent of the vote. His nearest rival, tea party leader Jamie Radtke, had 23 percent, state legislator Bob Marshall had 7 percent and Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson had 5 percent.

Allen will face Democrat Tim Kaine, both former governors, in the Nov. 6 election. The former Democratic National Committee chairman was unopposed for his party's nomination.

Republican incumbent Congressmen Bob Goodlatte, Randy Forbes and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also brushed aside primary challengers. In a battle between newcomers in northern Virginia's 11th District, Christopher Perkins, a former Green Beret and retired Army colonel, won the right to challenge two-term Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly in November. Perkins won 64 percent of the vote over traffic engineer Ken Vaughn.

In two Democratic U.S. House primaries, Jim Moran, the blustery 11-term congressman whose district is on Washington's doorstep, defeated primary challenger Bruce Shuttleworth. In the 4th District, Chesapeake City Council member Ella Ward dominated her opponent, Colonial Heights minister Joe Elliott, by a 4- to-1 ratio to take on Forbes in November.

With nominations decided, Virginia's GOP elite pointed to the fall and to redemption, not only for Allen's 2006 upset loss but also from 2008, when Republicans lost Virginia in a presidential race for the first time in 44 years.

Cantor bounded onstage at a victory party for himself and Allen in suburban Richmond and proclaimed the primary a precursor in battleground Virginia to November's pivotal elections.

"All eyes will be on the commonwealth and we're going to make a difference," Cantor told a ballroom filled with jubilant Republicans. "We will deliver for Mitt Romney, we will deliver for George Allen ... to make sure we can get America back on track."

Minutes later, Allen also coupled Kaine with Obama and served notice that he considers the Senate race as inseparable from the presidential race. He pounced on Obama's sunny assessment last week of the sluggish economy.

"Another message is: the private sector is not doing fine," Allen said. "Our message from Virginia is that we envision a better future than what we're experiencing these days."

Allen hit all the touchstones _ energy independence, big government _ but he also cast the upcoming election as a watershed for the nation. Under Obama, he said, the country had "lost its way" and this was year to proclaim the American dream still alive.

"Virginians love to talk about making history," Allen said. "Virginia is really going to have a chance to change the course of American history."

Turnout ranged from light to dismal on an overcast day of intermittent rain. At a west Richmond voting precinct in a young and trendy neighborhood of nightclubs and 20-something residents, only 34 of its 2,300 registered voters had cast ballots by 4 p.m., just three hours before polls closed.

Allen in 2006 was not only considered a shoo-in for re-election, he was widely viewed as a strong GOP presidential contender two years later. He had visited early nomination battlegrounds Iowa and New Hampshire to check out his prospects.

But Allen's race against Webb, a former Republican Navy secretary under President Reagan and a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, disintegrated in a chaotic, gaffe-strewn and undisciplined campaign. It began at a campaign rally where Allen singled out an American-born Webb aide of Indian descent videotaping him from the crowd and twice addressed him by an obscure slur, "macaca."

Webb decided in early 2011 not to seek a second term.

Allen's comeback campaign has been disciplined with a rigorous itinerary of personal appearances and cautious performances at three pre-primary debates organized by the state Republican Party, each time ignoring attacks from his GOP rivals and focusing his fire on Kaine as though the general election race already had begun.

Radtke and Jackson made their first statewide runs for office. Marshall ran in 2008 for the seat of retiring Republican John W. Warner, but lost narrowly to former Gov. Jim Gilmore in that year's bitterly contested GOP convention. Gilmore lost in that year's Democratic landslide to centrist Mark R. Warner.

Allen's opponents ran to his right on social issues and portrayed him as a pliant member of a free-spending GOP-ruled Senate in his earlier term, warning that Kaine will effectively the same criticisms against him.

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