Allen, Webb enter home stretch with final debate

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — Sen. George Allen and James H. Webb Jr. have entered the home stretch of their campaigns with a final debate tonight and with less than a month for each to try to convince voters that he is the best man to represent Virginia in the U.S. Senate.

The televised face-off could mark the turning point in a nasty, multimillion-dollar race, defined by questions of character and remarks the candidates made in the 1970s.

Virginians have until tomorrow to register to vote in the Nov. 7 election.

“I’m not particularly impressed with either candidate,” said William McCarthy, 51, a computer programmer who lives in Salem.

Mr. McCarthy, visiting the University of Virginia campus with his children to see a football game, said Mr. Allen, a Republican, seems to have been put on the defensive by Mr. Webb’s television ads that remind voters he served as secretary of the Navy under President Reagan.

Though Mr. McCarthy said Mr. Allen did a “reasonably good” job as governor of Virginia from 1994 to 1998, he favors Mr. Webb, a Democrat.

“Allen is just a little too conservative and narrow-minded on social issues,” he said.

Mr. Allen’s record as governor likely will be one of his central themes in tonight’s debate. In his stump speech, Mr. Allen talks about his signature initiatives as chief executive: the abolition of parole, welfare reform and the creation of nationally recognized education standards for public schools.

Many Republicans say Mr. Allen’s missteps should be overlooked.

“He was a great governor and he’s done a lot for this state,” said Jay Ipson, a Richmond resident and Allen supporter.

Mr. Allen’s closest friends and political allies say he will win the race despite close poll numbers if he highlights the differences between him and Mr. Webb on social issues and on taxes.

Mr. Webb, meanwhile, has targeted Mr. Allen’s position on the increasingly unpopular Iraq war.

A decorated Vietnam veteran, Mr. Webb thinks President Bush made a mistake by invading Iraq. Mr. Allen supports the president and says Iraq is central to the war on terror.

Keeping the conversation on the issues facing Virginia hasn’t been easy for Mr. Allen, who is still dogged by questions about his character.

New accusations surfaced in the Charlottesville Daily Progress yesterday that he used a well-known racial epithet to describe black playing cards during card games.

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