Republicans could be headed for a nasty 2012 Senate primary in Virginia

A divisive GOP Senate primary appears to be in the making in Virginia, where conservative Republican Corey Stewart seems to be laying the groundwork for a run at former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.).

Neither candidate has announced their intentions but state Republicans expect Allen to make a play for his old seat while Stewart is putting out feelers with his tough talk on illegal immigration.

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Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, led efforts in 2007 to pass a controversial ordinance aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration.

Now, along with a group of state legislators, Stewart hopes to get the ordinance adopted statewide and grab some national attention in the process.

"We know the law is effective, constitutional and we have a study to prove it," said Stewart, who pointed to a recent study from the University of Virginia that found since the implementation of the immigration policy in 2007, the county has seen a substantial drop in violent crime.

Stewart is a frequent Fox News guest on the topic, and political observers in the state say the issue, and the national attention that comes along with it, could help Stewart up his statewide profile and maybe even morph into a challenge against Allen.

He wouldn't confirm or deny a Senate run in an interview with The Hill, but he did criticize Allen's legislative record.

"I think he'd be hard-pressed to make the statement that he was an effective senator," Stewart said of Allen, who noted that while Allen was "a great governor," he never made a mark during his one term in the Senate.

He also said Allen was part and parcel of "the do-nothing Republicans who tarnished the Republican brand and were punished by voters in 2006 and 2008."

Stewart mixed his own tough talk on illegal immigration with more stringent criticisms of the former senator on the issue.

"George Allen has not one single accomplishment when it comes to illegal immigration," said Stewart. "I got something passed in Prince William County and now I'm working statewide."

The Prince William County law is similar to the recently passed immigration law in Arizona, but this one, said Stewart, has been around for three years, largely withstood legal scrutiny and has proven its effectiveness.

The first iteration of the Virginia law instructed police to check the immigration status of anyone in custody they suspected of being illegal. It initially provoked a public outcry, both locally and nationally, which in part led to a change in the law two years ago.

Now, the law requires police in the county to inquire about the immigration status of every suspect, regardless of whether there is a suspicion they are in the country illegally. Many of the county's law officers also have Immigrations and Customs Enforcement powers, allowing them to recommend suspects for deportation.

A senior adviser close to the Allen camp pushed back against Stewart's criticism.

"If Corey Stewart took a closer look at George Allen’s Senate record, he would see that he stood strongly against rewarding illegal behavior by voting against the Bush-McCain-Kennedy amnesty bill and made clear it was a priority to secure the borders," the adviser said.

Allen's Senate voting record on immigration is hardly centrist. In 2006, he voted against President George W. Bush's push for comprehensive reform, which would have established a guest worker program. Allen also cast a vote in 2006 in favor of building a fence along the Mexican border.

Stewart's seat on the Board of Supervisors is up in 2011. He told The Hill that "someone senior in the Allen camp" warned him they intend to solicit interests to pour money into the campaign of Stewart's challenger in an attempt to dissuade Stewart from running for the Senate.

But a source close to Allen said simply, "It's not true."

A recent poll from Democratic-leaning Public Policy showed Virginia Republicans overwhelmingly behind an Allen return in 2012. Forty-six percent of those surveyed preferred Allen in a primary. Another 18 percent said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) with 16 percent for state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Stewart was not a choice in the poll.

According to one GOP insider in the state, Stewart's primary play would likely revolve around pitching himself as the more conservative alternative to Allen and working to find a way to consolidate some conservatives behind his bid.

Stewart also faces the much tougher task of having to prove he can raise the money to be competitive statewide, which could also be aided by any national attention generated from his immigration push.

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) has yet to announce his intentions for 2012 and some Democrats in the state suspect he might not run for another term. A spokesman for Webb told The Hill late last month that the senator "will address his intentions regarding the 2012 election cycle after giving the matter proper thought and consideration," but offered no timetable for a decision. Webb defeated Allen in 2006.

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