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'Shad Planking' offers window on US Senate race in Virginia

Oily, bony fish? Check. Baked beans? Check. Politics? You betcha! GOP US Senate hopeful George Allen gave the keynote speech at 'Shad Planking 2012' in Virginia. Why was Democratic rival Tim Kaine a no-show?

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In Wakefield (pop. 955), the accents are frequently as thick as the smoke drifting from the shad smokehouse, where several dozen workers prep the fish. The gathering is almost entirely white, and the scene, about an hour southeast of Richmond, is backwoodsy, held amid a clearing in the pine trees. Supporters of libertarian presidential hopeful Ron Paul park their cars and turn down stickers for local US Rep. Randy Forbes (R), who has a 13-year-old supporter holding a goat named Rambo at the event's entrance. Both goat and boy are wearing Forbes for Congress T-shirts. 

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Several attendees bring cigars to light up in the open air. About as many pack sidearms on their hips.

But where Democrats see little to gain, Republicans have a different game. Planking attendees "are people who are politically involved," says Bob Denton, a communications professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., and a longtime state politics commentator. "It might be a way to activate your base a little bit."

Enter George Allen. Mr. Allen gave the keynote address at the Shad Planking, sounding themes he hits often: his economic record as Virginia's governor, the need for more domestic energy production to beat back higher gasoline prices, and the nefariousness of President Obama's health-care law.

What he didn't mention was his time in the US Senate, where Allen's critics on the left (Kaine) and on the right (tea party partisans) tie him to the expansion of government spending under President George W. Bush.

"George had his chance," says Dan Corrier of Mechanicsville, Va., a working-class city just outside of Richmond. "He had six years to do something, and all he did was put his foot in his mouth."

Amid such concerns, Allen set out to put his skills as a retail politician to work firming up his base. While Allen is the favorite to win the Republican Senate primary, there are still people like Mr. Corrier, who wore a sticker promoting long-shot GOP Senate candidates and tea partyer Jamie Radtke, that Allen will need come November.

Wakefield Mayor C. Winston Britt, though, says he's attended the Planking for 26 years, and that although the candidates come and go, some things simply don't change.

The planking is the "same as it ever was," says Mr. Britt, with a twinkle. "Politicians come down here and tell lies."

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