- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 10, 2007

State Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III’s political future and legacy could be determined more by one decision he made in 2006 than any other move he made during the past three decades representing Richmond in the General Assembly.

The Democrat has been a target of angry liberals ever since he endorsed former governor and former U.S. Sen. George Allen, a Republican, in Mr. Allen’s failed re-election bid last year against James H. Webb Jr., a Democrat.

Mr. Lambert’s endorsement came after Mr. Allen infamously called a Webb staffer of Indian descent “macaca,” a word considered a slur in some cultures. His use of the term left many voters questioning whether the Republican was racially insensitive.

Now, Mr. Lambert, who is black, is fighting for his political life in Tuesday’s primary election against one of Mr. Webb’s biggest allies, Delegate A. Donald McEachin, who is also black.

The election will set the lineup for the general election in November, when all 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for grabs.

“I think, in a district that is so predominantly Democratic, that this election cycle is a choice between someone who supported the Republican right’s political agenda in the last election cycle and someone who has been a lifelong Democrat,” said Mr. McEachin, Richmond Democrat.

Mr. Lambert said his opponent is a one-trick pony who is using the endorsement to downplay his numerous legislative accomplishments, including an appointment more than 15 years ago that made him the first black on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which oversees state spending.

“I think that’s the only thing he is running on, and I’m trying to tell people, ‘Don’t look at one endorsement. Look at the 30 years I have been there,’ ” Mr. Lambert said.

The 70-year-old has focused much of his career on education and pushing for blacks’ access to higher education, like he had.

“Historically black colleges have certainly not gotten a fair shake,” he said. “I came up though the black colleges. That was the only bridge I had, and I said long time ago that I would not let them down because of how they helped me.”

Mr. Lambert, known as “Benny,” said that’s why he endorsed Mr. Allen.

He thought that Mr. Allen, who pledged to seek $500 million for historically black colleges such as Virginia Union University, provided the best way to secure federal funding.

But that strategy backfired and liberal bloggers dubbed Mr. Lambert a “Liebercrat” — after Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who won re-election as an independent after losing the 2006 Democratic primary.

Mr. McEachin took a page out of Mr. Webb’s campaign message, promoting economic fairness and raising the minimum wage.

“It’s not an accident that all the trade unions have endorsed me, because I have stood up for the working man in Virginia,” he said.

Tuesday’s primary also features a battle for the Democratic nomination in McLean’s House District 34 between Richard Sullivan and Margaret Vanderhye.

The winner will face off against Republican David Hunt for the seat left vacant by retiring state Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr., House Appropriations Committee chairman. Mr. Callahan’s seat is the only one Republicans still hold inside the Beltway.

Democrats George Barker and Greg Galligan are vying for their party’s nomination to challenge incumbent Sen. James K. “Jay” O’Brien Jr., Fairfax County Republican.

Democratic leaders say that if they win Mr. O’Brien’s seat in the general election, it will significantly improve their chances of taking over the Senate, where Republicans hold a 23-17 seat majority.

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