Even before the votes are counted, over the Republican Party a "thick darkness broodeth" -- words from a Victorian hymn, for a party with a Victorian tendency. But one Republican, who is not running for anything this year, will emerge from this bruising season with enlarged prospects. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's hopes for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination have been enhanced by Virginia Sen. George Allen's difficulties.
Romney's most formidable rival for the Republican nomination is John McCain, who needs a crowded field of Republican aspirants to prevent the conservative majority of the party's nominating electorate from quickly coalescing around a single candidate. Allen once seemed likely to compete with Romney for conservatives' support.
But Allen, who makes no secret of finding life as a senator tedious, is fighting ferociously for another term, a fate from which his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, is close to rescuing him. As a result, Allen is dabbling in literary criticism. He has read, or someone has read for him, at least some of Webb's six fine novels, finding therein sexual passages that have caused Allen -- he of the football metaphors, cowboy regalia and Copenhagen smokeless tobacco -- to blush like a fictional Victorian maiden and fulminate like an actual Victorian man, Anthony Comstock, the 19th-century scourge of sin who successfully agitated for New York and federal anti-obscenity statutes and is credited with the destruction of 160 tons of naughty printed matter and pictures.
Webb, a highly decorated Marine veteran of Vietnam combat, includes sexual scenes in his fictional depictions of young men far from home and close to combat, something about which he knows a lot and Allen does not. Allen says the scenes are demeaning to women and evidence of flaws in Webb's character.
This ham-handed grab for women's votes may help Allen win but will not help him escape the perception that, as a presidential aspirant, he is problematic. His ragged campaign has made him seem accident-prone, and by Tuesday he probably will have burned through all the money he could raise. But to be competitive in the nomination contests that begin with the Iowa caucuses in January 2008, a candidate probably needs to have at least $60 million by December 2007. Allen would have to raise that amount in 60 weeks. A million dollars a week is a daunting challenge.