- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2006

Today, at the Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Va., Sen. George Allen squares off in a public debate against his challenger, anti-war Democrat James Webb, for the first time. This is Mr. Allen’s opportunity to highlight a simple fact: Like the Democrats generally, Mr. Webb has plenty of criticism for Republicans, but no clear agenda of his own. Thus he is asking Virginians to throw out a popular and well-known senator in favor of a volatile candidate whose positions are not so different from Sen. John Kerry’s.

This should not be taken to suggest that Mr. Webb’s candidacy is totally doomed. At the very least, the Senate race promises to be interesting; it seriously complicates Mr. Allen’s fall schedule. A Rasmussen poll released Thursday concluded that the former Reagan Navy secretary now trails Mr. Allen by 10 percentage points — 51 to 41 percent — which is about half the lead Mr. Allen enjoyed a few months earlier.

Still, the Republican Mr. Allen is the obvious frontrunner; he is leaps and bounds ahead in fundraising and far outstrips Mr. Webb in name recognition. Federal Election Commission reports for the five weeks leading up to June 30 show that Mr. Allen raised $788,415 compared to Mr. Webb’s $587,363. The incumbent has more than $6.6 million in the bank; Mr. Webb has just under $425,000.

So far, a fiery Mr. Webb has spent much of his energy denouncing the Iraq war and brandishing his impressive military credentials in homage to the notion that Democrats’ advantage is to be found hammering national issues and downplaying local ones. This only goes so far. At some point, Virginians will want to know what Mr. Webb will actually do for them.

Running down the list, it’s mostly unclear what he would do; in many cases where it is clear, it seems a poor fit for a conservative state. On Iraq, Mr. Webb would not withdraw immediately, but neither would he manage things as President Bush has (unclear). He hedges on free trade and tax cuts (unclear). He is pro-choice (unfitting). He is pro-gay “marriage” (unfitting). He is anti-NSA wiretapping (unfitting). On some issues — notably immigration and gun rights — his words are on firmer conservative ground. But whether he would keep them as a member of the party of Howard Dean is unclear.

A hero as a Marine in Vietnam and a seemingly staunch Reaganite in the 1980s, Mr. Webb clearly isn’t the same man many conservatives fondly remember. Today, he allows Harry Reid and friends to hide their dovishness behind his medals.

Mr. Allen is still the obvious choice for Virginia and his campaign still enjoys a comfortable lead. This morning, that lead could widen if Mr. Allen illustrates the inaptness of Mr. Webb for undecided voters.

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