- The Washington Times - Friday, November 3, 2006

NORFOLK — What do Elizabeth Taylor, Oliver North and S.R. Sidarth have in common? They are all unlikely characters in the sometimes-bizarre political play that is the campaign for the U.S. Senate in Virginia.

Miss Taylor choked on a chicken bone at a campaign event for then-husband John W. Warner in 1978.

Mr. North, of Iran-Contra notoriety, lost a bid in 1994 for a Virginia seat in a race that inspired a documentary.

And, if it weren’t for Mr. Sidarth, a college student, “macaca” would still be an obscure term.

Those oddball events were only a warm-up act for the circuslike final weeks of this year’s Senate campaign between Sen. George Allen and James H. Webb Jr., a Democrat.

Mr. Allen, a Republican who today will tour the state by airplane, yesterday received the endorsement of more than a dozen black church leaders from Hampton Roads. He also greeted voters with Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Virginia Republican. Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani will campaign with the senator Monday.

Mr. Webb, who will spend the weekend with prominent state Democrats stumping for votes in far Southwest Virginia, yesterday attended a college rally with state lawmakers and a “Women for Webb” luncheon with black church members in Norfolk.

In 2000, Mr. Webb, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat, endorsed Mr. Allen. Now, the men are locked in a tight — and bitter — race that could decide control of the Senate Tuesday night.

Sexy novels, accusations of racism and manhandling campaign volunteers are some of the most pressing concerns in this race, despite Mr. Allen and Mr. Webb imploring voters to stay focused on the issues.

The race was strange from the beginning, as Mr. Allen visited early presidential primary states last spring when he enjoyed a more than 30-point lead.

Mr. Webb, a Vietnam War veteran and best-selling author, wasn’t sure he wanted to be a politician, but liberal bloggers pushed to recruit him in hopes that his military background and past Republican credentials would be key to unseating Mr. Allen.

Now, Mr. Allen’s gaffes have helped Mr. Webb take a slight lead in most polls.

Longtime followers of Virginia politics shake their heads at the closeness and strangeness of the race that had been expected to be a breeze for Mr. Allen.

For Mr. Allen, the campaign changed at an event Aug. 11, when he pointed to Mr. Sidarth, an Indian-American, and called him “macaca.”

Mr. Allen said he didn’t mean to use the term known in some cultures as a racial slur. He said he made it up and apologized. But, he kept apologizing, a move that prompted much scrutiny.

“I’ve been stunned by the number of mistakes there that I wouldn’t expect from a seasoned politician,” Northern Virginia anti-tax advocate John Taylor said of Mr. Allen. “When you make a blunder, you don’t apologize for it for two weeks.”

Then came Mr. Allen’s denial and then acknowledgment of his Jewish heritage. Strange that a candidate would learn of his roots during a national race, stranger that he told a reporter the next day that he “still had a ham sandwich for lunch.”

Mr. Allen’s words and video quickly became fodder for late-night talk-show hosts. But, Virginia voters aren’t strangers to being in the national spotlight.

Miss Taylor was a crowd-pleaser when she ordered supporters to open their checkbooks for Mr. Warner, a Republican still serving in the Senate.

Mr. Warner’s candidacy almost didn’t happen. Republican Richard D. Obenshain defeated Mr. Warner in a nomination battle in 1978, but was killed in a plane crash before the election. Mr. Warner became the party’s candidate and went on to become one of the most respected lawmakers in Washington.

Mr. Warner, known for being bipartisan, tried to recruit Mr. Webb, who served as President Reagan’s Navy secretary, to run against Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb in 1994.

Mr. Webb declined, opening the door for the battle extraordinaire between Mr. Robb and Mr. North, which inspired the 1996 documentary “A Perfect Candidate.”

Mr. Robb prevailed, thanks in part to an endorsement from Mr. Webb, but was defeated six years later by Mr. Allen, also thanks in part to an endorsement from Mr. Webb.

All par for Virginia’s odd course.

Republicans are criticizing Mr. Webb for graphic scenes of strippers and incest in his novels, and earlier this week liberal blogger Mike Stark was wrestled to the ground by Allen supports after he confronted the senator at a campaign event in Charlottesville.

If Mr. Allen prevails Tuesday, he can position himself as a survivor of what he calls the “the most negative smearing campaign that Virginians have ever seen” and see if he still has presidential potential.

If Mr. Webb wins, he will have a unique perspective as the only senator who has a son serving in Iraq.

Mr. Allen has lost several pounds over the course of the campaign. His wife, Susan, said she makes sure he eats oatmeal with raisins and drinks vitamin-infused water.

As for Mr. Webb, he’s looking forward to Tuesday. “I’m going to vote, thank my staff and have a beer,” he said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide