- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2006

Sen. George Allen’s re-election race this year is more about 2008 than 2006.

Democrats know unseating the incumbent Virginia Republican would be a long shot, but they hope that their best attempt will tarnish his image, force him to drain his $7 million campaign accounts and take the wind out of his presidential sails.

Jim Webb, a former Republican who was President Reagan’s secretary of the Navy, and Harris Miller, a Northern Virginia technology executive, will face off June 13 for the Democratic nomination.

The race has piqued the interest of national leaders. Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, who heads the Democrats’ Senate campaign arm, told reporters last week they just might find “Cinderella” in Virginia this year.

Mr. Schumer avoided an endorsement of either candidate, but national Democrats say privately that the momentum is behind Mr. Webb, giving him the better shot for an Allen upset. They think Mr. Webb has a better story to tell, as a Vietnam veteran and best-selling author who has bucked the party establishment of both Democrats and Republicans. Mr. Miller has been a state party loyalist and activist for many years.

Conventional wisdom suggests Mr. Allen, with high poll ratings and a memorable record as a conservative governor in the mid-1990s, will win re-election handily in November.

But national Democrats hope the Allen seat will be swept away in a national wave of anti-Republican sentiment, even in Virginia, a traditionally “red state” where Democrats have been making inroads.

“Virginia has been growing increasingly purple over the last several years, a fact that was punctuated by Governor [Timothy M.] Kaine’s victory this past November,” said Phil Singer, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The two Democrats have been campaigning across the state, linking Mr. Allen with President Bush, whose national approval rating sank to a record low of 29 percent this week. They point out that Mr. Allen votes with the president 96 percent of the time.

“We need leaders desperately in our country right now,” Mr. Webb said. “This is a party that has not stood up to its own president when it comes to the abuse of executive power.”

Mr. Miller said Mr. Bush and Mr. Allen support “reckless policies that are creating huge deficits and economic pain for families in this state.”

“Washington is broken, and George Allen is part of the problem,” he said.

Mr. Allen has stiffer competition than some had predicted at the beginning of the year, said Robert Holsworth, director of the Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Everyone thought it would be an absolute cakewalk for Allen, simply a way to raise money for a presidential bid,” Mr. Holsworth said. “Now there is more uncertainty.”

A March Zogby poll favored Mr. Allen by seven percentage points against Mr. Webb and 12 points against Mr. Miller, while other polls give the Republican more than a 20-point lead over either Democrat.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, who leads the Senate Republican campaign arm, told reporters yesterday that Mr. Allen’s seat is not “in the category of concern.”

Allen campaign manager Dick Wadhams said he is “terribly confident.”

“That is not to say that we are not prepared for a very competitive race,” he said. “It never dawned on me that he would have a freebie in 2006.”

Mr. Webb had $202,987 cash on hand and Mr. Miller had $398,451 in the bank at the end of March, campaign finance reports show.

The two men are in an endorsement horse race. Mr. Webb boasts support from heavy-hitting Democrats such as retired Gen. Wesley Clark and Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, a decorated Vietnam veteran who wants U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, gave Mr. Webb $5,000. Reid spokeswoman Rebecca Kirszner said this does not equal a formal endorsement, but that Mr. Webb impressed her boss.

Mr. Miller, formerly president of the Information Technology Association of America, has endorsements from key state party faithful and 21 state legislators.

Still, both men need to “get out and be better known because George is folksy and people like him,” said Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat and former governor.

Mr. Wilder is not backing either candidate before the primary, but both men have received help from perhaps the most popular Virginia Democrat, former Gov. Mark Warner. Mr. Warner, who has said he will remain neutral in the primary, held fundraisers for each candidate and predicted the race will be “extraordinarily competitive.”

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