Greg Campbell  /  AP
With his wife Susan, Sen. George Allen, R-Va., signs autographs after his speech to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Memphis, Tenn., Saturday.
updated 3/11/2006 5:38:44 PM ET 2006-03-11T22:38:44

The historic Peabody Hotel's grand ballroom felt more like a locker-room Saturday morning as the Southern Republican Leadership Conference kicked off its second day. But was the game plan just for 2006?

As the morning's first speaker, Sen. George Allen woke up the slightly sleepy GOP crowd with a speech quite familiar to Virginians who have watched him win races for the House, the governorship, and, most recently, the Senate over the last 20 years.

He harkened the words of his heroes: Ronald Reagan, Thomas Jefferson, and his dad, the late football coach George Allen, Sr. He called the audience his "teammates" and delivered big-applause lines against taxes, federal bureaucracy, and amnesty for illegal aliens.

Dick Wadhams, Allen's chief of staff, said the speech was "as good as I've ever seen him," noting that Allen's remarks were pretty standard stump fare for him.

Allen got standing ovations before and after his roughly 15-minute speech, and then he was the one standing for the next hour and half. A couple of television interviews from the back of the room -- with potential 2008 rival Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas speaking on the stage behind him from across the room no less -- were followed by a growing pack around Allen in the hallway outside the room.

First, it was reporters from the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, and many other newspapers surrounding the senator and pelting him with questions on everything from Iraq to immigration.

Then, Allen and his wife, Susan, began another round of photos, autographs, and handshakes with supporters. Allen staffers jokingly assured the crowd that the baby Allen held up in the air wasn't a plant.

Even though Allen asserted countless times on Saturday that he is focused on getting re-elected in 2006, a lot of the questions for him had to do with 2008.

And after a few hours, just like in a presidential campaign, Allen was headed back to the airport for his next commitments: Saturday night's Gridiron Club dinner in D.C. and an appearance Sunday morning on NBC's Meet the Press.

Brooke Brower is a producer at Hardball.


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