Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Democrat James H. Webb Jr. yesterday picked up an endorsement from nine military women, a key voting bloc that political analysts say the candidate needs in order to upset U.S. Sen. George Allen of Virginia in the Nov. 7 election.

In announcing their endorsement, the women called the former Navy secretary a “man of integrity,” who is well versed in national-security and foreign-policy issues.

“He recognizes the crucial role that women have in the armed forces today, and the sacrifices that they’re making alongside their male counterparts in the toughest assignments in Afghanistan and Iraq,” said retired Army Lt. Col. Kate Wilder, a Democratic activist.

Mr. Webb, 60, and Mr. Allen, 54, have been trying for weeks to appeal to female voters.

The military women yesterday said the television ads Mr. Allen is airing that criticize Mr. Webb for writing a 1979 magazine article questioning a woman’s place in the U.S. Naval Academy are “powerful” but “bogus.”

“American military women have moved beyond Jim Webb’s … article,” Navy Capt. Barbara Brehm said.

Mr. Allen told editors and reporters at The Washington Times Monday that he spent thousands of dollars on the ads to show Mr. Webb’s “lack of respect for women.”

Mr. Allen did not mention the article when Mr. Webb endorsed the Republican for the U.S. Senate in 2000.

The military women yesterday stressed that Mr. Webb’s point of view 27 years ago mirrored the sentiment that most men held at that time. They also think that Mr. Webb’s perspective changed, saying that in 1987 Mr. Webb opened more operational positions for women in the military than any other Navy secretary in history.

“That provided genuine career opportunities for women to serve,” Capt. Brehm said.

Mr. Allen and Mr. Webb have said that they are comfortable with the positions women now hold in the military.

Mr. Webb, who stresses that his staff is almost entirely made up of women, said yesterday that Mr. Allen hopes to “break away a constituent group that traditionally aligns itself with the Democratic Party, and which I believe will align itself with my campaign when they see where my positions are on issues that affect women.”

A recent poll conducted by The Washington Post shows that the race is a tossup, but that voters think Mr. Allen would do a slightly better job than Mr. Webb on “issues important to women.”

Mr. Webb said his polling shows that he is “in pretty good shape with women voters.”

Mr. Allen is pro-life and, as Virginia governor, he signed a law requiring minors to notify their parents if they were planning an abortion. Mr. Webb is pro-choice, but opposes late-term abortions.

Mr. Webb’s campaign has highlighted that Mr. Allen holds stock in Barr Laboratories Inc., the maker of the Plan B morning-after pill. In August, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Plan B pills for over-the counter sale to women 18 and older.

Many social conservatives, who make up a large portion of Mr. Allen’s base, think Plan B destroys human life.

“It seems hypocritical to oppose a woman’s right to choose while investing in a drug that does just that,” Mr. Webb’s campaign said earlier this year.

Mr. Allen has said that he is glad to own the stock because the company runs a plant in southern Virginia and that it has led efforts to treat breast cancer.

Yesterday, Mr. Webb sounded poised to begin highlighting Mr. Allen’s stance on women’s issues.

“He’s had varying positions on the issues of choice depending on what his audience is, and there are others we will be willing to get into at a later time,” Mr. Webb said.

Mr. Webb this week aired his first attack ad against Mr. Allen, citing published reports that say that the Republican tried to steer contracts to companies that paid him stock options and that he violated Senate ethics rules by not reporting those options.

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat, did not show up at an event in Richmond where Mr. Allen announced that residents of a flood-damaged neighborhood will be eligible for low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Mr. Allen’s campaign had said that Mr. Wilder would join the senator, the AP reported. Instead, Mr. Wilder sent top aide William Harrell, who said Mr. Wilder was tied up in meetings on other city business.

He declined to provide more details, the AP reported.

Mr. Wilder, the nation’s first and only black elected governor, remains a powerful influence among black voters, and Mr. Allen’s campaign has been damaged by accusations of racial insensitivity since he used the racial slur “macaca” to describe an Indian-American Webb volunteer.

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