Democratic voters across Virginia chose Jim Webb, a best-selling author and Vietnam veteran, to face U.S. Sen. George Allen (R) Nov. 7.
Webb, 60, decisively beat Harris Miller, a former technology lobbyist from McLean, in Tuesday's Democratic primary election. With about 99 percent of precincts reporting, Webb garnered 53.46 percent of the total 155,000 Virginia voters who cast a ballot.
"The revolution begins here," said a grinning Webb, who celebrated his victory Tuesday night among cheering supporters at the Hilton Crystal City in Arlington.
Webb issued a challenge to Allen to engage in a series of debates on national security, globalization's impact on the U.S. economy, illegal immigration and the expanded power of the executive branch.
"The people of Virginia deserve a senator who is competent enough to address those issues," he said.
Webb, a Falls Church resident who served as U.S. Navy Secretary under Reagan, will have an uphill battle in challenging Allen this fall. Allen, who is seeking a second term, is considered a contender for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination and boasts nearly $7.6 million in his campaign war chest.
Webb noted that he will face an experienced politician with a sizable war chest and the support of the U.S. president.
"I like those odds," he said.
At a GOP party Tuesday night in Arlington, Allen supporters said they welcome the competition from the decorated war veteran. Allen, who was in attendance, declined to speak with a Connection Newspapers reporter.
"Let the games begin," said Dick Wadhams, the Republican's campaign manager.
In the coming months Webb's campaign will likely focus on national security issues, notably the Iraq war. Webb has been a vocal opponent of the war, stating five months prior to the 2003 invasion that it was a "strategic mistake."
"Our ideals have been placed at risk," Webb said. "In many cases, our leaders are not up to the task that we face."
THE STATEWIDE RACE Tuesday was marked by low turnout in all corners of Virginia, with only 3.34 percent of registered voters casting a ballot.
Webb dominated Northern Virginia, beating his opponent with 63 percent of the vote here.
Over the past few months, Miller sought to portray Webb as not a "true Democrat." In 2000, Webb endorsed his new opponent Allen over Democrat Chuck Robb. In numerous television spots, radio ads and mailings, Miller pointed out Webb's past statements praising Reagan and bashing the Clinton administration.
Miller was gracious in defeat. "Jim Webb is going to be a great U.S. senator and I'm going to do everything I can to help him win," Milller said to a room full of supporters in Tysons Corner.
Miller also took the opportunity to attack Allen, particularly focusing on Allen's frequent visits to states, which will play a major role in the 2008 presidential election. "Our country needs a full-time senator," he said.
Many voters Tuesday said they saw Webb as the candidate with the best chance of unseating Allen in the fall.
"This guy is the man," said Terry Hartnett, a Democratic activist from Burke. "He's a Jacksonian Democrat who is bringing people back to the party."
The primary came down to two issues said Fairfax County Board Chair Gerry Connolly (D). "The war and electability."
"Voters went the pragmatic route with someone who they thought could unseat George Allen," said Toni Michelle-Travis, a professor of government at George Mason. "He'll have a pretty good shot."
Webb overcame a sizable fund raising disadvantage in the primary, as Miller pumped nearly $1 million of his personal fortune into the race. Webb reported having $219,718 in campaign cash, according to Federal Election Commission records.
During his campaign, Webb collected several high-profile endorsements from national and local Democrats, including U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), former U.S. Rep. Leslie Byrne, former Virginia Del. Chap Petersen, U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, the Democrat's 2004 presidential nominee, campaigned for Webb Monday afternoon in Arlington, saying his fellow Vietnam War veteran stands the best chance to defeat Allen.
"[Jim Webb will] serve Virginia in the Senate with the same courage and character with which he served our nation in Vietnam," Kerry said. "Senator Jim Webb will settle for nothing less than the right policy for our troops, including his son who will be deployed to Iraq in the fall."
An April 29 poll by the nonpartisan Rasmussen Reports found that Allen, the Republican incumbent, led the race with 50 percent to 30 percent for Webb. The same survey suggested that 58 percent of Virginians view Allen favorably.
But Democrats hope an unpopular war and GOP scandals will help carry a tide of candidates into office. The U.S. Senate is currently comprised of 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and one independent.
"This can be done if we work together as Virginians, as Americans and as fellow Democrats," Webb said. "This can be done."
Additional reporting by Ari Cetron and Jason Hartke.