- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2000

Virginia's last-standing Democrat in high office, Sen. Charles S. Robb, used fighting words yesterday to announce his candidacy for a third term and the upcoming battle against Republican George F. Allen.

"I was taught how to fight and how to win right here in Virginia… . And let me assure you, no warrior I ever met at Quantico [Marine Corps Base] was frightened by big talk, big-heeled boots, or a chew of tobacco and neither am I," said Mr. Robb, a retired Marine officer, at his campaign kickoff in Annandale.

If the first official day of his campaign was any indication, Mr. Robb is going to trade blows with Mr. Allen, the popular former Republican governor.

After entering the room to the sound of the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There," Mr. Robb, 60, told the nearly 500 supporters at Northern Virginia Community College that he will run on his record. But Mr. Allen is unlikely to let him keep the campaign so tightly focused.

As far back as December 1998, Mr. Allen has made it clear that Mr. Robb's character would be an issue in what may eventually become a $20 million race.

Specifically, he mentioned the much-publicized massage given to Mr. Robb by a Virginia beauty queen, which came to light in 1991.

Mr. Robb later admitted that his social life as governor created tension with his wife, Lynda, daughter of President Johnson.

"I am clearly vulnerable on the question of socializing under circumstances not appropriate for a married man," he said in a letter to party supporters in March 1994. "For a period of time at Virginia Beach, I let my guard down, and when I did I also let Lynda down."

Mr. Robb had admitted that he received the massage at a New York hotel from Tai Collins, who said they had a long-running affair. He also was dogged by rumors that he attended parties where drugs were openly used.

Mr. Robb denied having sexual relations with Miss Collins or witnessing drug use.

Mr. Robb yesterday conceded Mr. Allen's lead in fund raising and time spent campaigning but hit hard at what he said were sound bites that distorted his positions.

"I know that many of you have heard that he and his key supporters act as though they're supremely confident of victory and they can't understand why I won't just roll over and play dead," Mr. Robb said. "But I'd remind him and I'd remind you that I know how to fight."

Mr. Robb won the Senate seat in 1988, replacing Paul S. Trible Jr., who declined to seek re-election. He narrowly defeated Republican Oliver L. North in 1994. He faces an uphill fight against Mr. Allen, a popular man in a state that has been voting Republican in increasing numbers.

Allen spokesman Tim Murtaugh said Mr. Robb's remarks were "sharply negative and sharply personal."

"This election is not about boots and chewing tobacco. It's about taxes… . The salient question I ask of Chuck Robb is what has he been doing for 12 years? If he had a record he could point to, he would not have to be talking about George Allen's boots."

After the event, Mr. Robb told reporters that Mr. Allen had knowingly misrepresented his position on the 50-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax he proposed in 1993 in response to fuel shortages from the Persian Gulf war.

Mr. Robb said he supports the 4.3-cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax increase enacted in 1993 as a deficit-reduction measure. He said he proposed studying how raising the gas tax by 50 cents a gallon would affect consumption, but the idea is no longer something he supports.

"It was done at a time that was very different than today, and it was not reintroduced in the next Congress. It was hoped to stimulate a debate in terms of policy," Mr. Robb said.

Mr. Robb invoked the language of war often in his speech yesterday. He talked of being a fighter, first as a Marine in Vietnam and then as an elected official.

"I'm going to try to fight the sound bites with ideas," he said. "We'll challenge the simple explanations with the simplest of logic what's right."

He indicated a tactical political move, an inch or two to the right, would be a smart idea.

"A small but important and growing number of us from both political parties are working to build a consensus in the center," Mr. Robb said, "a place on the political spectrum where posturing and political grandstanding give way to common sense and consensus."

Mr. Robb is the only Democrat currently holding a statewide office in Virginia.

The race will be one of the country's most closely watched, second only to the battle in New York between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rudolph W. Giuliani, said Ed Matricardi, executive director of the state Republican Party.

He said it's only fitting that Mr. Robb and Mr. Allen face off.

Both candidates are former governors who were prevented by state law from running for re-election. Mr. Robb's win in 1981 marked a temporary end to a Republican surge in state politics. Mr. Allen's victory in 1993 similarly marked the beginning of a Republican resurgence, which has led the party to almost total control of state politics.

"I think Chuck Robb can recapture the high ground for the Democrats," said Paul Sweet, 52, of McLean, a supporter who attended the Annandale rally. "The kind of leadership under Allen and [current Gov. James S. Gilmore III has been] a disappointment."

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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