By BOB LEWIS
One of Virginia’s best-known political analysts said he had never personally heard Sen. George Allen use racial epithets, despite saying on television a day earlier that the senator "did use the n-word."
Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said Tuesday in an e-mail to The Associated Press, "I didn’t personally hear GFA (Allen’s initials) say the n-word.
"My conclusion is based on the very credible testimony I have heard for weeks, mainly from people I personally know and knew in the ’70s," Sabato wrote.
Sabato, a classmate of Allen’s at the University of Virginia in the early 1970s, said Monday on MSNBC’s "Hardball with Chris Matthews" that he knew Allen had used racial slurs, but declined to say whether he had witnessed them.
Allen, a Republican who had been mentioned as a presidential contender and is now fighting an unexpectedly difficult race for a second U.S. Senate term, had said through a campaign aide that Sabato’s claim was inaccurate.
"We’re obviously glad that Mr. Sabato clarified his comments," said Dick Wadhams, Allen’s campaign manager. "We remain committed to trying to dispel these erroneous stories that have been out there."
Also Tuesday, Allen’s Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, declined to say definitively whether he had ever used a racial slur to describe blacks.
"I don’t think that there’s anyone who grew up around the South that hasn’t had the word pass through their lips at one time or another in their life," Webb told reporters.
Webb referred to his novel, "Fields of Fire," which aides said includes passages using the n-word as part of character dialogue. But he added: "I have never issued a racial or ethnic slur."
Asked for clarification of his original answer, spokeswoman Jessica Smith quoted Webb as saying, "I have never used that word in my general vocabulary or in any derogatory way."
She declined to say whether he had ever used the word apart from when he wrote his book.
Allegations of racial insensitivity by Allen dating to his high school days in California have become a major distraction for the senator since August, when he called a Webb campaign volunteer of Indian descent "macaca." The word is considered a racial slur in some cultures.
On Monday, a former football teammate of Allen’s, Dr. Ken Shelton, said he heard Allen frequently use a common slur applied to blacks among white friends while in college. Allen called the claim "ludicrously false" and released statements from four other ex-teammates defending the senator and rejecting Shelton’s claims.
Also in interviews with the AP and Salon.com late Sunday, Shelton claimed that on a hunting trip to Louisa County in 1973 or 1974, Allen stuffed the severed head of a female deer into the oversized mailbox of a black household near Bumpass, Va., 40 miles east of the university.
But in interviews Tuesday, two Louisa County sheriff’s deputies who were on the force in the early ’70s said that they recall no complaints about severed animal heads.
Retired Lt. Robert Rigsby said he was in charge of investigations in the early ’70s, and any such report would have gone through him.
"I think that’s a myth," Rigsby said.
Another veteran officer, Deputy William Seay, also could recall no such incident. Authorities said they did not know if records from so long ago would be preserved.
The leader of the Louisa County chapter of the NAACP, Stewart Cooke, said in a telephone interview that he had not heard of such an incident, but added that he had not lived in Louisa County at the time. He refused to comment further.
Associated Press Writer David Espo in Fredericksburg, Va., contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press