- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, a former governor whose endorsement has had significant impact in several elections, yesterday said fellow Democrat James H. Webb Jr. is the best choice for Virginians because he is independent-minded and will fight for “the common man.”

“I think Jim Webb is the right man for Virginia at this time. I think he can win and will win,” said Mr. Wilder, who became the nation’s first black governor in 1990.

Mr. Wilder’s endorsement comes at a crucial time for Mr. Webb, with most polls showing that he still trails Sen. George Allen, a Republican. A Mason-Dixon poll released Tuesday showed Mr. Allen pulling away from Mr. Webb after a previous poll had shown them in a dead heat.

Mr. Wilder said he is endorsing Mr. Webb, a former Navy secretary under President Reagan, because he will fight against the “pattern of inefficiency, ineptitude and scandal” in the Republican-controlled Congress.

“The direction of the war is wrong, the direction of the economy is wrong, the divide is too deep between the haves and have-nots,” Mr. Wilder told reporters in Richmond yesterday. “We need to reinvest our resources in the American people, and I think this is the man to do it.”

Mr. Webb said that Mr. Wilder, a grandson of slaves, is “a historical figure in our country for his own professional journey,” including his service as a soldier in the Korean War.

“This endorsement is much more than an endorsement directed at the African-American community,” said Mr. Webb, a former Republican. “This is an individual who has tremendous respect all across the different ethnic and regional groups in Virginia. It’s a very important endorsement for me.”

The Allen campaign said the endorsement was no surprise. They noted their radio ad featuring state Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III, a black Richmond Democrat who has endorsed Mr. Allen. In the ad, Mr. Lambert notes Mr. Allen’s support for black farmers and the Voting Rights Act.

Allen campaign manager Dick Wadhams brushed aside the relevance of the Wilder endorsement. He said it came “apparently reluctantly” since the mayor waited until the final 13 days of the campaign.

“Mayor Wilder is a Democrat, and it would be expected that he would support the Democratic nominee for Senate,” Mr. Wadhams said.

Mr. Wilder is well-known for withholding his endorsement for the final weeks of a race, elevating its importance.

Last fall, Mr. Wilder endorsed Timothy M. Kaine less than a week before the Democrat won the governor’s race.

“It’s huge,” Mr. Kaine said yesterday of the endorsement. “He is a person who retains a high degree of popularity, and Virginians have great affection for him. … It’s a boost.”

Mr. Wilder has not always supported his party’s nominee or elected leader. In 2004, he criticized Gov. Mark Warner for proposing a tax increase. Mr. Wilder had said he never would have endorsed Mr. Warner had he known the Democrat would raise taxes.

Last fall, Mr. Wilder declined to make an endorsement in the attorney general’s race, which Democratic state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, after a recount, lost by a scant 323 votes.

Black voters could be key on Nov. 7. Twenty percent of Virginia’s population is black, a 2004 census shows.

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

This time, Mr. Allen has been dogged by accusations of racism since he was taped calling an Indian-American Webb volunteer “macaca” at a campaign stop in August.

Some former University of Virginia classmates claimed they recalled Mr. Allen frequently using the “N-word.” Mr. Allen denies the racial slur was ever part of his vocabulary.

Mr. Allen, who has been scrutinized for years for his past affection for the Confederate battle flag and for once displaying a hangman’s noose in his law office, has been endorsed by several black pastors and by a black Richmond newspaper.

Mr. Webb also has faced criticism over comments he made that affirmative action should be scaled back for just blacks or opened up to poor whites. He has since tempered his comments and recently received the endorsement of the state’s Legislative Black Caucus.

Mr. Wilder said both men should be judged on where they stand on the issues and who they are today. “Many of us evolve,” he said.

Also yesterday, the Webb campaign said actor Michael J. Fox will appear with the Democrat Nov. 2 in Arlington. Mr. Fox, who is afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, has supported Democrats who favor embryonic stem-cell research.

• Seth McLaughlin reported from Richmond.

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