Former President George Bush has weighed in on the U.S. Senate race in Virginia, writing in a letter that Democratic incumbent Charles S. Robb voted with “the liberal Democratic leadership” more than with him.
The letter disputes television advertisements Mr. Robb is running in which the announcer says the senator “reached across party lines supporting President Bush on a majority of his initiatives.”
“I know Senator Robb supported some of my initiatives on domestic-foreign policy; but in an effort to set the record straight, he voted far more with the liberal Democratic leadership in the Senate than with me,” Mr. Bush wrote in the letter, dated Sept. 28 and addressed to Mr. Robb’s opponent, former Gov. George F. Allen.
Mo Elleithee, a spokesman for Mr. Robb’s campaign, said there is nothing devious in the senator’s advertisement he did, in fact, support Mr. Bush more than half the time.
“Senator Robb, 59 percent of the time he cast a vote in the Senate, cast a vote with President Bush,” Mr. Elleithee said.
Well yes, the Allen campaign responds, but that number includes “gimme-votes” ones where almost all Republicans and Democrats agreed on the issue. They point out that he voted with the Democratic majority more often almost 75 percent of the time.
So what, Mr. Elleithee asks. “They don’t like the answer, so they try to come up with new standards every time they get caught,” he said.
The numbers game is somewhat confusing, but over the last decade Mr. Robb has supported both President Bush and President Clinton more often than Democrats as a whole, according to the votes in the Congressional Quarterly Almanac.
For example, in 1989 Mr. Robb supported the president 73 percent of the time, compared with the average for Senate Democrats of 55 percent of the time. From 1990 to 1992, Mr. Robb supported the president at least 10 percent more often than Democrats as a whole.
But he also supported President Clinton 87 percent of the time last year, compared with an average of 84 percent support from Senate Democrats. In 1998, Mr. Robb supported the president 90 percent of the time, compared with his colleagues’ 82 percent average. Only two senators supported the president more.
In only two of Mr. Clinton’s seven years did Mr. Robb’s support fall below the average Democratic senator’s support for the president’s initiatives.
That’s in keeping with the senator’s pronouncement, though.
“When he feels it’s the right thing to do, he’ll support it regardless of the partisanship,” Mr. Elleithee said.
For example, Mr. Robb voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq in 1990.
The Robb campaign released a handwritten letter from Mr. Bush, dated Oct. 15, 1991, in which the president thanked him for his support in confirming Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.
“Thanks so very much for your courageous vote today. I know it wasn’t easy. I also am convinced it was right. You’re a good man,” Mr. Bush wrote.
Ed Matricardi, executive director of the state Republican Party, said something unique is happening in the campaign Mr. Robb is running ads touting his support for a president whose son is running this year, opposing Mr. Robb’s own party candidate.
That shows Vice President Al Gore has written off Virginia, Mr. Matricardi said.
“If Al Gore thought his campaign had any chance in Virginia, his people would have a phone call or a letter to Chuck Robb [chastising him for the commercial] the same day,” he said.
He said Mr. Bush will win Virginia by 10 percent of the vote about the lead polls give him. For Mr. Robb to win, that means tens of thousands of voters will have to split their vote for a Republican president and a Democratic senator.
But the Robb campaign said the letter is a diversion.
“If George Allen would spend just a fraction of the time on trying to come up with a good education plan that actually works that he’s trying to spend on this, we might actually be able to have a real debate on education,” Mr. Elleithee said.