- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2006

The top two candidates running for the U.S. Senate in Virginia each invoked the memory of former President Ronald Reagan in their first debate Saturday in an attempt to accentuate the leadership they would bring to Congress, if elected.

Incumbent Sen. George Allen said Mr. Reagan inspired him to get involved in politics, while challenger James H. Webb Jr., a Republican-turned-Democrat and secretary of the Navy under Mr. Reagan, portrayed the late president’s management style as the antithesis of that of President Bush.

When asked which administration was a “model for good presidential leadership,” Mr. Webb passed over beloved Democratic presidents in favor of the Republican icon.

“Ronald Reagan was a leader,” Mr. Webb replied. “Ronald Reagan knew how to set basic principles out and get good people around him and get things done. He was not someone who would have tolerated, in my view, the sort of slash-and-burn politicking that’s been going on the last six years.”

Mr. Allen said the Reagan Revolution fueled his desire for less government and encouraged him as Virginia governor to push welfare reform and abolish parole.

“These sort of ideals really came from Ronald Reagan’s inspiration,” Mr. Allen answered. “The things that Ronald Reagan did on welfare reform, we did while I was governor. The welfare rolls are down by 60 percent.”

Later, Mr. Allen said, “[Mr. Reagan] was criticized for calling the Soviet Union an evil empire, but there are now literally hundreds of thousands of people breathing and tasting the sweet nectar of liberty because the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain fell, and they are now free thanks to Ronald Reagan telling [former Soviet President] Mr. [Mikhail] Gorbachev ‘tear down this wall.’ ”

Mr. Webb said that Mr. Reagan’s diplomatic approach to the Cold War is a far cry from the Bush administration’s belief that invading Iraq was the best way to defeat terrorism.

“Ronald Reagan didn’t bring down the Soviet Union by invading Czechoslovakia,” Mr. Webb said. “There are very few people in the Reagan administration who have in any way supported this administration’s policies in terms of invading and occupying and placing our troops at risk in a place like Iraq.”

Kristian Denny Todd, a spokeswoman for Mr. Webb, said the decorated Vietnam War veteran did not agree with Mr. Reagan all the time, but that he admired Mr. Reagan’s ability to end the Cold War without a bullet being fired. Mr. Webb resigned as Navy secretary after refusing to reduce the size of the Navy.

Robert Holsworth, dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University who served as moderator, told The Washington Times he was somewhat surprised by Mr. Webb’s response.

But, he said Mr. Webb showed that he does not fit the normal political mold.

“Almost anyone involved in the political arena would point to John Kennedy or Harry Truman,” Mr. Holsworth said. “It really shows that Jim Webb obviously says what he thinks, and he doesn’t put most of his statements through a political grinder before they come out.”

Mr. Allen’s campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, said yesterday that Mr. Webb was having an “identity crisis.”

“He’s the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate and he invokes a Republican icon, a respected Republican president,” he said. “I would think some Democrats would have some concern that he couldn’t cite a Democratic leader in response to that question.”

Steve Jarding, a spokesman for Mr. Webb, said Mr. Allen’s camp is trying to play up anything to distract from the senator’s record of supporting Mr. Bush 97 percent of the time on policies that hurt Americans.

“Jim understood [he] can have differences with the Reagan administration, but [he] can still respect the leadership qualities — leadership qualities we are not getting from George Bush and George Allen,” he said.

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