Making his first campaign appearance in Alexandria as the Democratic nominee for the United States Senate — only his second campaign appearance in the city — Jim Webb spoke to party faithful at the Alexandria Democratic Committee’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on June 23.
Webb said that his former opponent in the primary — Harris Miller, who made countless appearances in Alexandria —vowed to support Webb in a sign of unity for the Democrats in Virginia. He defeated Miller by 53 percent to 47 percent in the June 13 primary. In Alexandria, Webb beat Miller with a wider margin — taking 60 percent of the vote compared to Miller’s 40 percent showing. Now Webb must face Sen. George Allen, a popular former governor seeking a second term to the Senate.
“This is going to be a tough race,” Webb said. “But in the end, this is a race that’s about the future of our country.”
Webb said that Allen was working with strategists who were responsible for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth advertisements that attacked Sen. John Kerry in 2004 as well as the 2002 television advertisements accusing then-Sen. Max Cleland — a triple amputee from the Vietnam war — of being unpatriotic. At Friday’s appearance in Alexandria, Webb tried to tie Allen to the actions of his subordinates.
“He has two of the dirtiest political operatives working on his campaign. And you can quote me on that,” Webb said. “This is what we’re up against.”
IF POLLING IS any indication, the race between Allen and Webb could be close. A Zogby poll released last week that showed Allen with 48.8 percent of the vote and Webb with 43.5 percent — a five-point margin that prompted many local Democrats to say that Webb is within striking distance of victory. The online poll's margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.
“I’ve personally never been impressed with Zogby’s polling, and I don’t think it’s consistent with the other polls,” said Chris Marston, chairman of the Alexandria Republican City Committee. “Allen supports our troops staying in Iraq, and Webb seems to want to cut and run.”
A 1968 graduate of the Naval Academy, Webb joined the Marine Corps to fight in Vietnam. As a member of the Fifth Marine Regiment, Webb was a rifle platoon and company commander in the An Hoa Basin west of Danang. For his service in Vietnam, Webb was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star Medal, two Bronze Star Medals and two Purple Hearts.
Webb has written six novels as well as the nonfiction “Born Fighting,” a history of the Scots-Irish in America. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan appointed Webb secretary of the Navy — a post he resigned the following year to protest what he says was a reduction of the force structure during congressionally-mandated budget cutting.
“People are excited about his prospects because they think his message will resonate with voters,” said Susan Kellom, chairwoman of the Alexandria Democratic Committee. “I think here in Northern Virginia, voters are concerned about privacy and safeguards in the Constitution.”
Beating an incumbent is difficult but not impossible. In 2000, Allen beat incumbent Sen. Chuck Robb — a popular former governor. Statewide, Allen took 52 percent against Robb’s 48 percent of the vote. Alexandria’s vote was predictably lopsided in favor of the Democratic candidate, with Robb at 66 percent and Allen at 34 percent.
“I hope that we can make some improvements on the numbers, but I’m not expecting anything dramatic,” Marston said. “Even Sen. John Warner only wins one or two precincts in Alexandria. We’re certainly going to run an aggressive grassroots campaign.”