- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

CHESAPEAKE — Democrat James H. Webb Jr. yesterday joined with state Delegate Lionell Spruill Sr., Chesapeake Democrat, to try to win support from black voters, telling churchgoers at 13 stops that he wants to represent the people who often are left without a voice “in the quarters of power.”

“The main issue that drove me to run in this campaign is what I see as a growing inequality in this country,” said Mr. Webb, 60. “I feel very strongly that you don’t measure the health of society at its apex, you measure at its base … by the working people.”

Mr. Webb, a decorated Vietnam veteran, is trying to unseat Sen. George Allen, a Republican, in the Nov. 7 election, saying Mr. Allen has “blind” support of the Iraq war.

Joined by his pregnant wife, Hong, Mr. Webb addressed thousands, many in pressed suits and fine hats.

He said that when he was 24, chief executive officers earned 20 times the salary of the average American worker. Today, his son Jimmy, a Marine serving in Iraq, is 24 and such business executives earn 400 times the salary of the average worker.

“There are too many people in government who believe they are the servants of power, rather than having an obligation to speak the truth to power,” Mr. Webb said. He expressed worry about the number of lobbyists — 31,000 — trying to influence the 535 lawmakers in Washington.

With a little more than two weeks left in a race that could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate, the fast-paced day started at 7 a.m.

Political observers agree that Mr. Webb, a former Republican, needs the support of blacks, a traditional voting bloc for Democrats. Most polls show the race in a statistical tie.

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus backs Mr. Webb, but state Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III, Richmond Democrat, gave a surprise endorsement to Mr. Allen, citing the Republican’s support of black colleges.

The son of a Baptist mother and Methodist father, Mr. Webb relayed his populist message through a passage from the book of Matthew.

“In the end Jesus says, ‘As ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,’” Mr. Webb said, drawing several responses of “Amen” and murmurs of agreement from the audience.

Both candidates spent the weekend appealing to black voters.

On Saturday, Mr. Allen, 54, and Mr. Webb visited the campus of historically black Virginia Union University in Richmond, shaking hands and making small talk at the Gold Bowl football game. They also took part in a forum hosted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Democrats have suggested that Mr. Webb was slow to reach out to blacks. He struggled to gain black support in the Democratic primary, in large part because of confusion about his stance on affirmative action. Mr. Webb said the program either should be limited to blacks or opened to poor whites.

Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat who in 1990 became the country’s first black governor, still holds a lot of clout with voters, especially blacks. He has not endorsed either candidate.

Mr. Wilder last week told The Washington Times that Mr. Webb must give voters, especially those in the middle, reasons why they should support him, rather than just voicing opposition to Mr. Allen and President Bush.

Yesterday, Mr. Webb appeared welcome among those he visited.

“It’s real good that he is here because it lets everyone see him face-up because you can see a whole lot with a person face-up instead of on TV,” said Phillip Butt, 53. “It’s a blessing for us.”

Steve Johnson, 51, said Mr. Webb appeared to have a genuine interest in the black community. “We sure appreciate that he does come out and show us that he does care,” he said.

Both men said they agreed with Mr. Webb’s opposition to the Iraq war.

Mr. Allen, a staunch supporter of Mr. Bush’s “stay the course” stance, has softened his tone in the past couple of weeks, saying the country needs to adapt its strategy to the worsening conditions in Iraq.

Mr. Allen was presumed a likely winner early in the race, but a remark perceived as racially insensitive and accusations that he used racist language as a college student have hurt his re-election bid. Mr. Allen apologized for the remark and denied the accusations about his past.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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