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James Webb’s campaign picks up steam against Allen

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September 18, 2006

In the movie "Rules of Engagement," written by James Webb, a wounded Vietnam veteran-turned-lawyer beats seemingly hopeless odds to win a case defending a comrade in arms.

A real-life Hollywood ending seemed unlikely until recently for Webb, who is campaigning to unseat Virginia Sen. George Allen, a formidable Republican opponent with presidential ambitions in 2008.

Now, however, a forceful anti-Iraq-war message resonating with voters nationwide before the November congressional elections and a distinctly unpresidential gaffe by his rival have helped Webb wipe out a double-digit polling deficit.

Democrats suddenly scent blood and a chance for Webb to capture a big trophy as they seek to pick up the six seats needed to take control of the Senate from the Republicans.

Webb, an acclaimed novelist, decorated Vietnam War veteran and Navy secretary during conservative hero Ronald Reagan’s presidency, is proving tough for Republicans to label as another Democrat soft on national security.

Webb’s slogan, "Born Fighting", emphasizes a family history of military service — his 24-year-old son just shipped out to Iraq with the Marines — and he campaigns in combat boots alongside a comrade who lost an arm in Vietnam.

But he thinks the Iraq war is a mistake that has left U.S. foreign policy in disarray.

"I think they (Republicans) have lost the moral high ground because of what’s happened over the last six years," Webb said in an interview at his campaign headquarters.

"In Iraq, we are stirring the pot, not solving the problem."

SOLDIER VS COWBOY

Webb’s run is a test of whether the anti-war message that Democrats are increasingly confident pushing can convince a traditionally conservative state where Republican warnings against "cutting and running" in Iraq still carry clout.

The race only became competitive when Allen slipped up by using a racially charged term to address a member of Webb’s campaign team who was filming the Republican on the stump.

"It’s not a state like Connecticut where the anti-war message is stronger because there’s more Democrats, more left-leaning independents that agree with that message," said Nathan Gonzales, political editor at the Rothenberg Political Report in Washington.

Former vice presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman lost a Democratic primary in Connecticut last month to an anti-war rival who accused him of cozying up to President George W. Bush over the war, but polls now have Lieberman ahead as an independent in the relatively liberal state.

Webb, a youthful-looking 60-year-old whose ruddy complexion and red hair betray his Scots-Irish ancestry, wants to commit to withdrawing from Iraq but pledges to strike firmly at U.S. enemies there and elsewhere in the world.

"When I hear people allege you cannot be against the war in Iraq and for the war against international terrorism, I respectfully disagree," he said.

Analysts see Webb being helped by the heavy military presence at bases throughout Virginia and by the growing population in wealthy, more ethnically mixed northern Virginia, where people lean Democrat.

Still, as in most U.S. Congress races, the smart money is on the incumbent, who in this case has added celebrity appeal as the son of Hall of Fame football coach George Allen and who was himself a star college quarterback in California.

Allen, who campaigns in cowboy boots and with a simple, sunny style that reminds many of Reagan, has a big funding advantage and wide name recognition in the state where he was once governor.

With polls now showing a tight race, campaigning is getting personal. Allen’s camp set up a news conference this week by five female Naval Academy graduates who said a 1979 article Webb wrote on women’s unsuitability for combat had led to harassment against women at the academy.


© Reuters 2006

10 Responses to James Webb’s campaign picks up steam against Allen

  1. Mimi Schaeffer

    October 16, 2006 at 5:28 am

    What pain?

    One of the women in the initial campaign ad has recanted and now support Webb.

    I live in Virginia and any person who votes for Allen is a rabid partisan. Webb is the most qualified candidate challenger — barring none.

    And when you places Webb’s heroic credentials against Allen’s phony cowboy persona and his racist past with convenient gaps in Jewish family history, well, there really is no choice.

    For the record, here’s how Webb won his Navy Cross while Allen was racing across California with a Rebel flag atop his pickup truck.

    The citation Jim Webb received on July 10, 1969.

    “The Navy Cross is presented to James H. Webb, Jr., First Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as a Platoon Commander with Company D, First Battalion, Fifth Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, in connection with combat operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. On 10 July 1969, while participating in a company-sized search and destroy operation deep in hostile territory, First Lieutenant Webb’s platoon discovered a well-camouflaged bunker complex which appeared to be unoccupied. Deploying his men into defensive positions, First Lieutenant Webb was advancing to the first bunker when three enemy soldiers armed with hand grenades jumped out. Reacting instantly, he grabbed the closest man and, brandishing his .45 caliber pistol at the others, apprehended all three of the soldiers. Accompanied by one of his men, he then approached the second bunker and called for the enemy to surrender. When the hostile soldiers failed to answer him and threw a grenade which detonated dangerously close to him, First Lieutenant Webb detonated a claymore mine in the bunker aperture, accounting for two enemy casualties and disclosing the entrance to a tunnel. Despite the smoke and debris from the explosion and the possibility of enemy soldiers hiding in the tunnel, he then conducted a thorough search which yielded several items of equipment and numerous documents containing valuable intelligence data. Continuing the assault, he approached a third bunker and was preparing to fire into it when the enemy threw another grenade. Observing the grenade land dangerously close to his companion, First Lieutenant Webb simultaneously fired his weapon at the enemy, pushed the Marine away from the grenade, and shielded him from the explosion with his own body. Although sustaining painful fragmentation wounds from the explosion, he managed to throw a grenade into the aperture and completely destroy the remaining bunker. By his courage, aggressive leadership, and selfless devotion to duty, First Lieutenant Webb upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.”

  2. Howard

    September 18, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    It should not be as much anti-war as it is anti-wrong war in wrong place for the wrong reason! and of course, the quagmire as a result of the wrong people making the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons and with faulty and wrong intelligence.

    Lieberman, by the way, is no more an independent than Bush is a credible president.

    The Connecticut Democrats are making a serious error by supporting this Bush supporter and an abysmal jackass!

  3. Wanda Cummings

    September 18, 2006 at 8:32 pm

    Has anyone noticed how much George Allen looks and acts like a bully in the macaca video? His sister told a reporter her brother has always been a bully. Has a Confederate flag in his office…hmmm.

  4. Geraldine

    September 18, 2006 at 9:45 pm

    I read the transcript from Meet the Press yesterday and then went to Webb’s website and read it thoroughly. He’s an interesting man full of convictions and has integrity — wholistic integration of a wide-range of beliefs.

    I’m used to politicians misrepresenting the truth, Allen is worse than most. I’d love to see this jerk go down in flames.

  5. Mike

    September 18, 2006 at 9:49 pm

    Looks as if Allen’s camp is in some serious trouble having to resort to the almighty smear tactics. I doubt Mr. Webb intended to cause trouble for women in the Naval Academy with his school paper article. What was Mr. Allen’s stance on, “women in the military”, in 1979?

  6. Amy Clemons

    September 20, 2006 at 10:47 pm

    I wouldn’t have looked at the senatorial race if it wasn’t for my journalism class. Imagine my shock when I discovered that George Allen was against abortion rights and spending $100 million on education concerning pregnancy and contraceptives. It may be because I am young, but I think it is extremely fustrating that if he wouldn’t support abortion he wasn’t going to educate students on how to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. I cannot make anyone accept my views on abortion (pro choice), but education is the least he can do!!!!! Think of your daughters.

  7. Anita Smith

    October 2, 2006 at 1:57 am

    Lets not forget, however, the pain that Webbs article caused women attending the Naval Academy. Women were just starting to get accepted so it was hard enough for them already. They did not need to hear the vile and ignorant remarks made by Webb in his article.

  8. Anita Smith

    October 2, 2006 at 1:58 am

    Lets not forget, however, the pain that Webbs article caused women attending the Naval Academy. Women were just starting to get accepted so it was hard enough for them already. They did not need to hear the vile and ignorant remarks made by Webb in his article.

  9. Anita Smith

    October 2, 2006 at 1:59 am

    Lets not forget, however, the pain that Webbs article caused women attending the Naval Academy. Women were just starting to get accepted so it was hard enough for them already. They did not need to hear the vile and ignorant remarks made by Webb in his article.

  10. ppionerka

    October 13, 2006 at 5:10 pm