Saturday, August 26, 2006

Senator’s racial slur could hand Virginia to the Democrats

Senator’s racial slur could hand Virginia to the Democrats
By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: August 24 2006 22:37 | Last updated: August 24 2006 23:31

George Allen, the ambitious Republican junior senator for Virginia, is losing ground to his opponent in a key race that could help determine whether Democrats can seize control of the Senate in November’s congressional elections.

The latest Rasmussen poll shows Mr Allen’s lead over the Democrat Jim Webb has shrunk from 11 points a month ago to only five points; 47 per cent favoured Mr Allen with 42 per cent now preferring Mr Webb, a former marine and Reagan-era secretary of the navy, who is one of dozens of veterans seeking national office for the first time.

Needing to take six seats from the Republicans in November to capture the Senate, Democrats have been counting on swing races – Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Missouri, Montana and Ohio. Recently, though, they have been eyeing Tennessee and Virginia as possible states for an upset.

Republicans across the country are suffering from association with an administration whose Iraq war is becoming increasingly unpopular. President George W. Bush this week acknowledged that the war was “straining the psyche” of the American people, and Republicans are increasingly questioning the administration over its tactics as references to civil war increase in political discourse.

But Mr Allen managed to generate more problems for himself recently when at a campaign event he singled out S.R. Sidarth, a Webb staffer of Indian descent who was trailing him, using a reference to a genus of monkey that in some countries is used as a racial slur which Mr Siddarth captured on video that the Webb campaign then made available over YouTube, the fast-growing website that allows people to share video clips.

“This fellow over here with the yellow shirt – Macaca or whatever his name is – he’s with my opponent,” said Mr Allen. “Let’s give a welcome to Macaca here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.”

Mr Allen, who is considering a presidential run in 2008, came under heavy criticism for the remark, which Mr Sidarth captured on video and allowed the Webb campaign to post on the internet. As the controversy refused to die down, Mr Allen on Wednesday called Mr Sidarth to apologise.

The controversy has generated much criticism in the media. On Thursday, the Washington Post lambasted the Allen campaign for saying Mr Allen was being unfairly vilified for his remarks. But the political storm was not sufficient to prevent Mr Bush from attending a fundraiser for Mr Allen on Wednesday.


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