- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 9, 2006

BEDFORD, Va. — Voters here know how to pick winners in statewide elections.

This community of nearly 6,300 residents has picked the Republican winners — President Bush and Sens. George Allen and John W. Warner — and Democratic winners Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and former Gov. Mark Warner in Virginia’s presidential, congressional and gubernatorial races since 2000.

“We vote for the man, not the party,” Grace Nichols, 69, told The Washington Times along with her husband, Ray, 76, at a local Hardee’s — a morning hangout for the city’s older crowd.

With less than two months until voters choose among Mr. Allen, Democrat James H. Webb Jr. and Independent Green Party candidate Gail Parker in the race for one of Virginia’s U.S. Senate seats, many residents in this city roughly 25 miles east of Roanoke feel disconnected from Capitol Hill, and are disappointed in the federal government’s handling of the war in Iraq, immigration and other domestic issues.

“If I had my choice, I’d run every … one of them out of the legislature,” said Clarence Lawler, 76, a former Fairfax County teacher who now is a member of the Elks National Home retirement community. “They’ve sat … all year long and done nothing.”

Others say elected leaders don’t live in the real world.

“You have 535 individuals living in a glass house inside the [Capital] Beltway, and it is all fogged for them,” said Jim Revell, an independent who voted for Mr. Allen in 2000. “They can’t see out into the real world.”

Donna Keler, 50, agreed. “I make $663 a month on disability. Let them come down off their high horses and live on $663 a month.”

Aside from the die-hard party faithful who are pretty much decided which candidate will get their vote, other residents seem hesitant to trade the familiar face of Mr. Allen for the unfamiliar face of Mr. Webb.

“I like Webb, but if I were to vote today it is still kind of a tossup,” said Mr. Revell, 57, a Vietnam War veteran.

Mr. Lawler, a Republican who supports Mr. Allen, agreed. “I don’t think that people down in this part of the country know Mr. Webb at all.”

Local Democrats acknowledge Mr. Webb’s limited name recognition is a problem.

“I don’t know as much about [Mr. Webb] as I’d like to know,” said Craig Amo, 60, a Democrat who owns Cup-a-Joe coffee house downtown. “To get the word out in the entire state takes money and he didn’t have it until recently. I think between now and November we will get a lot more information out of Jim Webb.”

Mr. Webb, Navy secretary under President Reagan, missed a chance to push his message in this part of the state on Labor Day, when he skipped the traditional campaign kick-off parade for statewide elections in nearby Buena Vista. Mr. Webb opted to spend time with his son, Jimmy, a 24-year-old Marine lance corporal, before he deployed to Iraq on Tuesday.

Mr. Webb, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, is scheduled to appear in this part of the state at a variety of events today, and will begin airing his first 30-second campaign ad in Northern Virginia, Norfolk and Roanoke media markets showing a video clip of Mr. Reagan praising his military record.

Yesterday, former first lady Nancy Reagan told Mr. Webb in a three-paragraph letter not to use video of her husband praising him in the ad, the Associated Press reported.

The letter from Mrs. Reagan’s office said using footage of Mr. Reagan was “neither authorized nor appropriate,” the AP reported.

Mrs. Reagan’s letter came the same day as two former members of the Reagan administration and the chairman of Mr. Reagan’s presidential campaigns said they were displeased with the ad.

“James Webb is dishonoring the memory of President Reagan by using an old video clip to imply that Ronald Reagan would be supporting him,” they said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Webb told AP the ad was fair and the attacks against it were politically inspired by Mr. Allen.

“At this time, we are not changing our plans,” spokeswoman Kristian Denny-Todd said.

Residents here say that Mr. Webb still needs to sell them on what separates him from Mr. Allen.

“I saw [Mr. Webb] in debate and it was ‘me too-isms,’” Mr. Lawler said. “[Mr. Webb and Mr. Allen] both spoke almost identically.”

When asked why people still support Mr. Allen, the residents said the senator was a “great governor” who touts the conservative values people here hold dear.

For others, the reasons were simpler.

“On TV he looks straight at you,” said Betty Miller, 74. “I like that.”

Still, Mr. Webb’s military background plays well with others around the city of Bedford, home of the National D-Day Memorial.

A Marine who returned from Iraq last month and supported Mr. Allen in 2000 hinted he was leaning toward supporting Mr. Webb, a former Marine.

“Once a Marine, always a Marine,” said the Marine, who did not want to be identified because of his military status.

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