One of the worst-kept secrets in Virginia politics over the last year and more is that former Senator George Allen was aiming for a rematch with Jim Webb. Allen is lining up staffers, has been making the political rounds, appearing at campaign events and even gracing the stage at the October Tea party convention in Richmond. More importantly, Allen’s allies worked hard to ensure that the Republican nomination will be decided in a primary, rather than a convention. But is his coronation assured?

A few of his fellow Republicans will have something to say about that. Prince William supervisor Corey Stewart is very likely a contender, and it appears as though Allen’s people aren’t happy about it…particularly after Stewart called Allen a “mediocre” Senator.

Delegate Bob Marshall, who challenged Jim Gilmore for the Senate nomination in 2008, is also most likely to get into the race. Marshall probably won’t have much money and he’s also tweaked the tea parties by coming out against the repeal amendment making its way through the General Assembly. However, anyone who underestimates Marshall’s chances does so at their own peril – just ask Jim Gilmore.

The only officially declared candidate in the race is former tea party president Jamie Radtke, and she’s making a strong play to become the “official” tea party candidate. In a farewell email to members, Radtke said she “would be thrilled” if folks would sign up for campaign updates.  But in a message on Monday, Radtke did something quite tea-party like: she challenged George Allen to a series of “monthly public Town Hall Forums across Virginia” in what she calls an effort to “forthrightly discuss” the nation’s challenges. Traditionally, frontrunners – and that is what Allen is in this contest – aren’t keen on debating or otherwise appearing with their challengers.  But this time, tradition may have to take a back seat to the new political reality. Anyone who followed the tea parties at all during the course of the health care debates knows that they are masters of the town hall format. Radtke’s challenge is a way of tapping her tea party credentials and pushing Allen into that arena. If he declines, he’s no better than Mark Warner. It’s a risky strategy. Allen’s partisans still love the man and are willing to forgive a great deal if it means they get a crack at redemption against Webb. Plus, Stewart and Marshall may want to join-in – and they should. Radtke’s approach is to make the contest look like one between her (and by extension, the tea party) and Allen.  If Allen’s smart, he’ll consider the challenge – but also insist that Marshall and Stewart and whoever else decides to jump into the contest be included.  Unless it’s Ken Cuccinelli.