- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006

Looking toward today’s Senate primary in the Old Dominion, you might question the electoral cliche that “all politics is local.”

Many pundits are predicting that the Democratic primary for the Virginia U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican George Allen will have implications that reach far beyond the Shenandoah Valley caverns or the Hampton Roads tunnel or the congested lanes of Interstate 66.

Some are even suggesting that Virginia voters should make their choice of veteran Fairfax party leader Harris N. Miller or Falls Church war veteran James H. Webb Jr. based on who has a better chance to beat Mr. Allen in the November general election.

As the conventional wisdom goes, the outcome of the fall election may well determine whether the well-heeled, charismatic Mr. Allen will seek the Republican nomination for president in 2008.

Since Virginia primaries are open to all voters regardless of party affiliation, a few political observers report that Republican strategists are encouraging their members to vote for Mr. Miller in the primary, thinking that he is the weaker opponent for Mr. Allen.

Who knows? But with an anticipated low turnout, it is clear that this early summer bellwether will be a photo finish determined by too few voters with a narrow-minded focus. A referendum on the Iraqi war perhaps?

It’s too bad for state and local interests that too many outside meddlers appear to be more interested in perpetuating the deep polarization between the two major political parties at the national level than in providing what Virginians need for Virginia.

So it’s up to Virginia voters to thoroughly check each candidate’s record, go to the polls today and cast their ballots based on principles, not party.

Which contender will fight for an equitable tax code, affordable and accessible health care, strengthening public schools, work-force housing and transportation funding, all for developing and maintaining sustainable communities? Which candidate knows the first thing about anti-gang initiatives or immigration issues, topics that will consume the state’s urban and suburban areas as well as the rest of the nation? Who will work to ensure the human rights and privacy of all citizens? Which one supports a military draft?

Bob James, former vice president of the Black Caucus of the Virginia Democratic Party, said Mr. Harris and Mr. Webb both bring strengths and weaknesses to the table.

“Virginians should pick a candidate whose platform and past record, to whatever extent they have a past record, is more consistent with Virginia values,” Mr. James said.

I doubt those values should include the bitter bickering the campaign has seen in recent days.

“The campaign has been more negative than might be desirable, and I don’t think that’s good,” Mr. James said.

Keep in mind that this once no-nonsense state is in the throes of an ideological war where the Republican-controlled legislature can’t even get a budget passed.

Mr. James, a government lawyer and an Arlington father of two, has been “overwhelmed” with e-mail, mailings and candidates and supporters knocking on his door. However, he said, “I’ve never witnessed the elected and party officials as divided” between the state and local levels and the national level.

Scratch my head: Mr. Miller bills himself as “a Warner Democrat,” but the popular former Virginia governor, Mark Warner, who has his own national aspirations, is supporting Mr. Webb. State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple of Arlington is supporting Mr. Miller, while Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette is supporting Mr. Webb.

Go figure. Mr. Miller generally enjoys the support of most of the party’s state and local officials, while Mr. Webb has garnered support from big names and donors on the national level such as Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Rep. John P. Murtha, of Pennsylvania. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, former presidential candidate, campaigned yesterday for Mr. Webb, the former secretary of the Navy under President Reagan.

Mr. Webb is seen as “the best hope” to unseat Mr. Allen, but if Mr. Miller pulls off an upset, will these national politicians still lend a hand to Virginians after the November election? Herein is where the confusion and distrust for voters comes into play for Virginians. Are they being played? “What kind of Democrat is this?” one Alexandria friend aptly asked of Mr. Webb. And, if Virginia Democrats elect a covert Republican to replace an overt one, Mr. Allen, then what have they accomplished?

I’m baffled, too, by the push to support a candidate for one party with deep roots in the opposing party, one who supported one president of the opposing party and was an appointee of another president of the opposing party and who supported the very person who may be his senatorial opponent, and agrees with many of the opponent’s policies to boot.

In his own words to The Washington Times, Mr. Webb said: “I’m like a huge crop of people there that haven’t really fit in with either party, so I know there is resistance is some areas of the Democratic structure, and I suppose there are people in the Republican side who feel I’ve jumped ship.”

This is not to suggest that Mr. Miller is a better bet. But Virginias do need to know exactly what each candidate’s credentials and concerns are for their constituents. Otherwise it will seem that it is more important for the Democrats to reclaim the U.S. Senate, no matter with whom or with what, as some pragmatists suggest.

So much for local politics in the Old Dominion.

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