- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2000

U.S. Sen. Charles S. Robb, in a tight race with challenger George F. Allen, is hammering on the issues of race, gun control and abortion that helped him beat Oliver North in 1994.
He's still down in the polls, and needs a barn-burning finish to save his seat.
The strategy is so similar, in fact, that he's unleashing the race issue at the same point in the campaign as in 1994.
In that year, the state Democratic Party established phone banks to make calls to black voters linking Mr. North to David Duke, a one-time Ku Klux Klan wizard much like the phone calls now going out to black voters telling them that Mr. Allen once kept a noose in his law office and a Confederate flag in his home. Mr. Allen says they were part of historic memorabilia collections, and that the noose was an Old West item.
As in 1994, Mr. Robb started sluggishly but gathered steam after Labor Day. Now that the Senate is on a break, he's powering through the state.
And as in 1994, polls show Mr. Robb entering the final week having closed the gap from a double-digit deficit down to two points in a poll last Sunday by The Washington Post. Other polls showed a wider gap. It was at about the same point in the 1994 campaign that he pulled even with Mr. North, after having trailed for most of September and October.
But this campaign is strikingly different, and those differences seem to work in Mr. Allen's favor. For one thing, Mr. Allen hasn't polarized voters in the way Mr. North the figure in the middle of the Iran-Contra scandals did, says Mark Rozell, a political scientist at Catholic University who dedicated a chapter of his book on Virginia politics to the 1994 race.
"George Allen doesn't inspire that level of intensity against him. There are people who dislike his policy views, who think he did something wrong here and there as governor, but it's not Iran-Contra. It's not the culture wars."
This race also lacks a J. Marshall Coleman. Mr. Coleman was a former state attorney general whom Virginia's senior senator, John W. Warner, recruited to run as an independent. This year, Mr. Warner, a Republican, is backing Mr. Allen strongly.
The stake in the heart of Mr. North's campaign, though, was driven when Nancy Reagan went on a television talk show on Oct. 27, 1994, and accused Mr. North of lying to her husband, President Reagan.
Polls taken right after that showed Mr. Robb with his first lead, which carried over to a three-point victory on Nov. 8, Mr. Rozell said.
This year's race has no spoiler, and Republicans are unified behind Mr. Allen. North advisers say Mr. Coleman gave "country club Republicans" someone to vote for rather than have to make the choice between Mr. Robb and Mr. North.
In fact, instead of getting a slap from party luminaries, Mr. Allen is receiving presidential-caliber support: He has been endorsed by President Bush, campaigned yesterday with former presidential candidate Bob Dole, and last night began running a television ad with Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush calling Mr. Allen his friend.
The ad is entirely positive, and talks only of Mr. Allen. That's also the same strategy the state Republican Party is using in its get-out-the-vote phone calls they don't mention Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore or Mr. Robb at all.
"Staying positive" is one lesson the Allen campaign seems to have taken from Mr. North's run in 1994. Going negative on Mr. Robb himself gave him the victory, North advisers concluded later.
Mr. Allen says he won't respond in kind to the Democrats' charges on race, though Republicans say there's plenty of ammunition in Mr. Robb's votes against an amendment to ban flag desecration, or his support of homosexual "marriages." Republicans, though not Mr. Allen, also hint that they could repeat personal attacks on Mr. Robb that dominated much of the 1994 race.
One other difference between 1994 and 2000 is that in 1994, Mr. Robb and Mr. North traded leads early in the summer and again in October. But Mr. Allen has never trailed Mr. Robb in the polls.
Democrats defend the content of their messages, particularly the ones on race, as an important indicator of Mr. Allen's views on race issues.
For his part, Mr. Robb spent yesterday shaking hands in Newport News and Richmond.

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