- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2006

RICHMOND — Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, a former governor and one of the state’s leading Democrats, has some advice for his party’s U.S. Senate nominee James H. Webb Jr. — let voters know what you stand for.

“The question is, what reasons will Jim Webb give people to vote for him,” Mr. Wilder, 75, told The Washington Times. “There are so many people in the middle that want to have a reason to lean this way or that.”

Mr. Wilder has yet to endorse anyone in Virginia’s U.S. Senate contest.

He said that Mr. Webb still trails Republican Sen. George Allen, in part, because he has failed to articulate a message beyond opposing Mr. Allen and President Bush.

He also said it’s “amazing” that so many voters he meets are undecided before the Nov. 7 election.

An endorsement from Mr. Wilder, who became the nation’s first black governor in 1990, carries high value in any political contest in Virginia. But a Wilder blessing this year would be priceless for either Senate nominee.

Mr. Wilder said that he has spoken with both nominees — and with Mr. Webb as recently as Thursday.

“I told him that I think a lot of people are looking to see which of the candidates has a concise clear message that distinguishes one from the other,” he said. “It’s not a matter of voting against somebody but reasons that people would want to vote for Jim Webb.”

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, knows the power of a Wilder blessing: He was endorsed by the mayor Nov. 2, less than a week before last year’s election.

“It helped a lot,” Mr. Kaine told The Times. “At that point, we felt like we had momentum and it was a confirmation of momentum, which created more momentum.”

Mr. Wilder, who was elected with 79 percent of the vote in Richmond in 2004, holds influence over many Virginians but has particular sway among black voters.

Twenty percent of the state’s population is black, according to the 2004 census.

Mr. Allen captured 20 percent of the black vote in 1993 when he was elected to succeed Mr. Wilder as governor, and 17 percent when he unseated Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb in 2000.

The black vote has become increasingly important in the neck-and-neck contest between Mr. Allen and Mr. Webb.

Both men have been accused of making racist comments when they were young.

Mr. Allen was accused of using the “n-word” as a student at the University of Virginia, and he called an Indian-American Webb volunteer “macaca” at a campaign event this past summer. The term, which Mr. Allen said he made up, is considered a racial slur in some cultures.

Mr. Webb has faced criticism from blacks for saying that affirmative action is unfair to white men. However, he has since tempered his comments and recently received the endorsement of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus.

Mr. Wilder, who dropped a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1994, is unpredictable. He has endorsed Republicans and Democrats, and has turned his back on candidates he previously had favored.

He joined Mr. Allen in March 2004, denouncing a state tax increase proposed by then-Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat he had endorsed a few years earlier.

“Had I had any idea he would be embarking upon raising of taxes of Virginians past anything we had promised during that course, I would not have been there with him,” Mr. Wilder said in 2004.

The increase ultimately passed, but left Mr. Wilder at odds with some of the state’s most loyal Democrats.

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