"I made more decisions in half a day as governor than you can make in a whole week in the Senate," Allen said this month as he dashed into a Republican fundraiser in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Before a crowd in Davenport, he lamented being in the Senate: "It's too slow for me."
Allen, a Virginia Republican, had traveled to Iowa with designs on the White House in 2008, so his musings on his job's duties might not sound surprising. With his conservative voting record and down-home folksy manner, and his name recognition as the son and namesake of a famous football coach, he has been crisscrossing the country, pitching himself as an alternative to Sen. John McCain.
But Allen might be getting ahead of himself. Even as he laments his day job, he is dancing a delicate two-step, asking Virginians to return him to it. Here in Culpeper, far from the presidential proving ground of Iowa, he sounded a different theme, that of the grateful public servant: "Thank you for allowing me to serve you all."
In a year that is looking up for Democrats, Allen's re-election bid just got tougher than he expected. Mark Warner, the Democratic former governor of Virginia, decided against a challenge, but James Webb, a former Navy secretary, recently entered the Democratic primary, turning a ho-hum race into one to watch.
So Allen could be found Tuesday night in Culpeper, a farming community in north-central Virginia, politicking retail-style. A friendly audience listened as he called for tough border laws and fiscal responsibility.
Allen calls himself "a common-sense Jeffersonian conservative," which loosely translates into the Reagan credo of getting government off people's backs. "I trust free people and free enterprise," he says. "I don't like meddling, nanny or oppressive government."
Fiscal conservatives seem to like him, but social conservatives are uneasy. "He's got a good voting record," said Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, "but the question is, how committed is he?"
Perhaps to demonstrate commitment, Allen is co-sponsoring a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. In a turnabout, he now opposes legislation classifying crimes against gays as hate crimes. He recently said abortion should be left to the states -- a view tantamount to calling for Roe v. Wade to be overturned.