RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Former Sen. George Allen easily defeated three lesser-known conservative Republican challengers Tuesday in Virginia's primaries, earning a shot at regaining the seat he lost six years ago in a race both parties consider critical to controlling the U.S. Senate.
With 90 percent of the vote counted, Allen had 65 percent of the vote. His nearest rival, tea party leader Jamie Radtke, had 23 percent, state legislator Bob Marshall had 7 percent and Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson had 5 percent.
Allen's opponents ran to his right on social issues and portrayed him as a pliant member of a free-spending GOP-ruled Senate in his earlier term, warning that his Democratic opponent in November, former Gov. Tim Kaine, will use the same criticisms of him in a race that could determine partisan control of the Senate.
Republican incumbent Congressmen Robert Goodlatte, J. Randy Forbes and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor also brushed aside primary challengers. In a battle between newcomers in northern Virginia's 11th District, Christopher Perkins, a former Green Beret and retired Army colonel, won the right to challenge two-term Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly in November. Perkins won 64 percent of the vote over traffic engineer Ken Vaughn.
In two Democratic U.S. House primaries, Jim Moran, the blustery 11-term congressman whose district is on Washington's doorstep, defeated primary challenger Bruce Shuttleworth. In the 4th District, Chesapeake City Council member Ella Ward dominated her opponent, Colonial Heights minister Joe Elliott, by a 4-to-1 ratio to take on Forbes in November.
With the nomination decided, Virginia's GOP elite pointed to the fall and to redemption, not only for Allen's 2006 upset loss but also from 2008, when Republicans lost Virginia in a presidential race for the first time in 44 years.
Cantor bounded onstage at a victory party for himself and Allen in suburban Richmond and proclaimed the primary a precursor in battleground Virginia to November's pivotal elections.
"We have more determination, we have more will, we have more excitement," he told a ballroom filled with euphoric Republicans.
"All eyes will be on the commonwealth and we're going to make a difference," Cantor said. "We will deliver for Mitt Romney, we will deliver for George Allen ... to make sure we can get America back on track."
Allen, a former governor, in 2006 was not only considered a shoo-in for re-election, he was widely viewed as a strong GOP presidential contender two years later. He had visited early nomination battlegrounds Iowa and New Hampshire to check out his prospects.
But Allen's race against Webb, a former Republican Navy secretary under President Reagan and a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, disintegrated in a chaotic, gaffe-strewn and undisciplined campaign. It began at a campaign rally where Allen singled out an American-born Webb aide of Indian descent videotaping him from the crowd and twice addressed him by an obscure slur, "macaca."
Webb decided in early 2011 not to seek a second term.
Allen's comeback campaign has been disciplined with a rigorous itinerary of personal appearances and cautious performances at three pre-primary debates organized by the state Republican Party, each time ignoring attacks from his GOP rivals and focusing his fire on Kaine as though the general election race already had begun.
Turnout ranged from light to dismal on an overcast day of intermittent rain. At a west Richmond voting precinct in a young and trendy neighborhood of nightclubs and 20-something residents, only 34 of its 2,300 registered voters had cast ballots by 4 p.m., just three hours before polls closed.
Radtke and Jackson made their first statewide runs for office. Marshall ran in 2008 for the seat of retiring Republican John W. Warner, but lost narrowly to former Gov. Jim Gilmore in that year's bitterly contested GOP convention. Gilmore lost in that year's Democratic landslide to centrist Mark R. Warner.
A Washington Post poll from last month showed that more than six out of 10 likely GOP primary voters favored Allen. But Tuesday's returns showed a sizeable contingent of Republicans demanding their nominee be more conservative, not a favorite of the GOP establishment.
Igor Prohorov, 26, a Richmond Costco worker, said he didn't support Allen or Cantor because they were not conservative enough. He planned to vote for Marshall and for Cantor's opponent, Floyd Bayne, a former small business owner who Prohorov believes would use that experience to help balance the budget.
"George Allen, he was a pretty decent governor, but in terms of being a senator, his voting record is kind of shaky here and there," Prohorov said. "He voted for a lot of spending, and I just don't think that we need to have him back."
Others pointed to Allen's and Cantor's experience as a reason to support them.
"I think they're seasoned players. They've been around long enough and they know what they need to do," said Dennis Biggs, 60, a retired engineer from suburban Richmond.
For Kim Faison, an antiques seller who lives in Richmond's west end, she voted for Allen because she thought it would most help get Mitt Romney elected president in November.
For full primary results, click here.