- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2000

BUENA VISTA, Va. Candidate George F. Allen and incumbent Sen. Charles S. Robb paid political homage to a decades-old tradition in state politics yesterday when they brought their Senate race to Buena Vista's annual Labor Day parade.
In a rite of passage that means the homestretch for this critical race, the two men walked the parade route about a half-mile apart from each other, then delivered brief remarks on stage, keeping their partisan shots mild.
But the speeches are for the reporters. The real point of Buena Vista is old-fashioned handshakes and baby-kissing.
The parade is a 30-year-old tradition in Buena Vista (Buena rhymes with Luna) and has a little of everything: competitions between campaigns to cover more telephone poles with signs than the other guy, candidates' children tossing candy from cars, and candidates trying to keep ahead of the high school and college bands while trying to shake every hand offered.
It also has all the small dangers of campaigning, like a couple sitting on their porch with their dog when Mr. Robb's wife, Lynda, came up to shake their hand. The couple was obliging, but the pooch almost took her hand off.
Mr. Robb, a Democrat, got only a slightly better reaction from one woman who, on seeing the senator approaching, scampered off the sidewalk and back onto the grass.
"I'm not shaking his hand this year no way," she said to her husband, who bravely stood his ground and shook the senator's hand but told him he was a Republican.
"That's all right, even Republicans can be saved," Mr. Robb replied.
Mr. Robb seemed energized by the crowd and maybe by this year's challenge. He literally ran from group to group, trying to keep up with his spot in the parade while shaking every hand. And the folks who wouldn't shake his hand were more than canceled out by the elderly women who pulled him close and told him they wouldn't dream of voting for anyone else.
For his part, Mr. Allen, a Republican, was in his element, shaking hands and walking the route behind a shiny yellow humvee sporting Allen campaign signs.
Even after he had walked the route, supporters came to him, asking him for help with some difficulty with the federal government or just wanting another autograph.
In their speeches, neither man deviated from recent campaign themes.
Mr. Robb put forth a long list of government programs and policies from prescription drugs to a "patient's bill of rights" to raising the minimum wage and told the gathering he would make progress on all of them.
And Mr. Allen stuck to his theme of limited government, promoting his plan for tax credits for families to buy school supplies or computers for education.
Mr. Allen also continued to jab at Mr. Robb's record on taxes.
"Not only will I tell you I'm going to get rid of the marriage penalty tax, when it comes time to vote for it, I'll vote to get rid of the marriage penalty tax," Mr. Allen said.
But Mr. Robb parried those attacks, and continued trying to put the focus on what he's said are distortions of his record, telling listeners to "make sure you get the straight facts."
"Credibility counts. If you get to the United States Senate and you don't have credibility, you can't be effective," Mr. Robb said.
During the speeches the politicians sat on the stage on either side of the podium. To the right were the Republicans Mr. Allen and six current officeholders, including the attorney general, lieutenant governor, a U.S. representative, the speaker of the Virginia House and state senators and delegates. But to the left of the podium sat Mr. Robb, alone.
Asked about it later, Mr. Robb said he did it on purpose "I wanted folks to see the contrast in how things are lining up," he said but the symbolism was apparent. As the sole Democrat elected statewide, Mr. Robb is in the fight of his life.
Labor Day no longer means the beginning of the political season, but rather the homestretch. And during that time, Virginia's contest will be second to none in excitement.
Neither side expects any big new issues to hit. Rather, the race will be fought on what's already out there: education, taxes and spending on social programs and defense.

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