The New York Times reported Feb. 22 that five men, all sitting federal circuit court judges, comprise the short list for a Supreme Court vacancy: "Included on the list are Judges Michael W. McConnell of the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, John G. Roberts of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and J. Harvie Wilkinson III and J. Michael Luttig, both of the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Another possible candidate is Judge Samuel A. Alito of the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, who sits in Newark."
Three of these five are Virginians-Mssrs. Luttig, Roberts and Wilkinson. That means selection of any of the three presents Virginia Sen. George Allen with a great opportunity to show the Commonwealth's voters, who must decide whether to reelect him in November 2006, that he takes care of their own, while at the same time signaling the GOP's conservative base that he will fight for solid conservative nominees.
In the last big bust-up over a Supreme Court nominee, then-Sen. John Danforth of Missouri won enduring affection and admiration for his steadfast defense of Clarence Thomas, a protege and friend. The almost certain battle over any Bush nominee will give the home-state senator an opportunity to introduce the nominee and then lead the defense against the onslaught from the left. Though neither Mr. Allen nor Virginia's other senator, John Warner, are on the Judiciary Committee, the position of home-state senator is a great platform from which to wage a vigorous defense of a controversial nominee-and win huge political points by doing so.
Mr. Allen is already coming off a tremendous 2004, the year in which he led the National Republican Senatorial Committee in its very successful candidate recruitment and fundraising efforts that led to the pickup of four seats for the GOP majority.
Mr. Allen then won the "Wadhams primary," luring the highly respected Dick Wadhams to Washington, D.C., to serve as his chief of staff. Mr. Wadhams is a long-time fixture in Colorado politics, an advisor to Gov. Bill Owens and the manager of Sen. Wayne Allard's uphill reelection victory in 2002. He also managed John Thune's hugely symbolic win over Tom Daschle last November.
Only a handful of GOP strategists have a Wadhams-level reputation, and his signing on with Mr. Allen has fueled speculation that the senator's 2006 race is a warm-up for Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008. Voters in those states will certainly watch the judicial nomination battles and record the names of senators who fight hard for a conservative nominee.
This is one of the few advantages a senator has over governors who could succeed President Bush-and Mr. Allen would not squander such an opportunity. "He's not on the Judiciary Committee," Mr. Wadhams told WORLD, "but he'll help in any fight to put conservatives on the court." (Mr. Wadhams also quashed the Colorado rumor that he would return there for the race to succeed Gov. Owens.)