Virginia on a knife edge after race gaffes

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For a man facing the prospect of humiliating defeat, Republican Senator George Allen seemed to have a lot of time to spare.

Certainly, tackling the gridlocked traffic problems that plague this part of northern Virginia is a worthy task. But days from an election that he was once expected to sail away with but where now he was behind in the polls, did he really have time for a private visit to a company that collects and distributes footage from traffic cameras?

Mr Allen did not appear best pleased with the question. There were other events, he snapped, that he had participated in that day. Furthermore, voters in Virginia were concerned about the traffic and were "concerned about being able to get home".

Mr Allen might have been better off spending the final days before Tuesday's election pressing the flesh orcampaigning in a more obvious way. The most recent polls put him one point behind his Democratic rival Jim Webb. In political terms, Mr Allen is the riches to rags story.

Less than six months ago the former state governor was considered certain to be re-elected and was being talked of as the possible Republican candidate for the presidency in 2008.

But Mr Allen's campaign has suffered from a series of gaffes, of which the recurring theme has been race. The worst of these was in August when Mr Allen referred to an Indian member of Mr Webb's staff as "macaca".

Yet Mr Allen could still turn things around. He has a lot of local support and there are plenty of people who will vote on local issues - such as the terrible traffic - rather than the national issues such as the war in Iraq.