Democrats Vie to Run Against Virginia's Allen
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Among the many Republican Senators eyeing a possible campaign for the White House in 2008 is George Allen of Virginia. But before Allen can think about the Oval Office, he has a Senate reelection campaign to contend with. And two Democrats hope to keep him from winning.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:
This is the choice facing Virginia Democrats in next Tuesday's primary, a well-known candidate with what some consider suspect credentials as a Democrat and a candidate whose credentials are impeccable, but who few would recognize. The well-known candidate is James Webb.
He's been a best-selling author and a journalist. A decorated Vietnam War veteran, he is perhaps the only Senate candidate this year with both a Navy Cross and an Emmy. He was also Secretary of the Navy in the Regan administration, a Republican who supported Allen in his successful campaign in 2000 against then incumbent Senator Chuck Robb, a Democrat. Speaking to a group of Democrats the other night in Lynchburg, Webb said he's sorry for that.
Mr. JAMES WEBB (Author and journalist): I've said this publicly, the United States Senate would've been a hell of a lot better place over the past five years if Chuck Robb had been in there.
NAYLOR: Webb supports abortion rights and civil rights for gays. He is also a firm backer of the second amendment, the right to bear arms, which is not a bad thing for a Democrat in Virginia. Webb hikes the campaign trail in combat boots. They are, he says, to honor his son, a marine who faces deployment to Iraq this fall. Webb opposed the decision to go to war in Iraq, a position that is the cornerstone of his campaign. I asked him why after his many successful careers he's running for the Senate.
Mr. WEBB: I don't need to be in the Senate in order to feel fulfilled. You know, I've had a really blessed life, but I care about the issues and I have a different set of eyes from most people in the political process. And if people would like to see me, you know, put that set of eyes on the problems, I'm happy to do so. And if they decide that I'm not what they want, I'm comfortable with that.
NAYLOR: And many Democrats seem comfortable with Webb, despite his past associations with the GOP. John Lawrence is chairman of the Lynchburg Democratic Committee. He says Democrats he's talked to do have some concerns but -
Mr. JOHN LAWRENCE (Lynchburg Democratic Committee): I think a lot of people need to get over it. He is running as a Democrat. He is espousing Democratic ideals and, you know, I think it's good that we can change.
NAYLOR: Despite some reservations, Lynchburg resident Bill Johnson likes Webb for pragmatic reasons. He believes he's the best Democrat to beat George Allen this fall.
Mr. BILL JOHNSON (Lynchburg resident): I do have some questions about the second amendment. I'm not quite as pro-second amendment, but I realize where I'm at. I'm pretty favorable toward Mr. Webb because I think his chances are better.
NAYLOR: So do top national Democrats, including Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and Senator Charles Schumer, head of the Democrat Senate Campaign committee, who've taken the unusual step of endorsing Webb in the primary. On the opposite side of the state, in the Northern Virginia suburb of Arlington, Harris Miller is greeting supporters at a fundraiser.
Mr. HARRIS MILLER (Virginia activist): Thank you so much for you support I appreciate it. Where'd you get that wonderful tan? I'm very jealous.
NAYLOR: The event is called Women for Miller. The headliner is former NARAL president Kate Michelman, who calls the 100 or so in attendance to action.
Ms. KATE MICHELMAN (Former NARAL president): Make sure that every single person knows the difference between Harris Miller and Jim Webb. Harris Miller has always stood for the things we care about.
NAYLOR: Miller has been a long time activist in Virginia politics. He calls himself a Mark Warner Democrat after the popular former governor. He headed a high-tech trade association. Miller says he is the true Democrat in the race.
Mr. MILLER: I'm a lifelong Democrat. I've devoted my life to supporting the fundamental values of the Democratic Party. My primary opponent's a lifelong Republican who recently joined the Democratic Party. I always welcome new people, but he not only was Republican, but he actively supported George Allen.
NAYLOR: Miller makes the same point in a TV ad he's running in the state.
(Soundbite of TV ad)
Unidentified Announcer: Jim Webb, Reagan official, supported George Bush, campaigned for George Allen. Harris Miller, the Democrat we can count on.
NAYLOR: Whichever Democrat wins Tuesday's primary will face a formidable and confident opponent in George Allen.
Senator GEORGE ALLEN (Republican, Virginia): My opponents, both of them, have had successful careers doing various things, but it really wasn't in touch with all the people of Virginia. They're going to places that I've been to dozens of times, know the people, know the sentiments, and they're going there for the first times in their lives.
NAYLOR: And Allen has more than 7 million dollars in the bank, far more than Miller and Webb combined.
Brian Naylor, NPR News.
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