- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 8, 2006

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Sen. George Allen and James H. Webb Jr. have entered the home stretch of their campaigns with a final debate tonight and with less than a month for each to try to convince voters that he is the best man to represent Virginia in the U.S. Senate.

The televised face-off could mark the turning point in a nasty, multimillion-dollar race, defined by questions of character and remarks the candidates made in the 1970s.

Virginians have until tomorrow to register to vote in the Nov. 7 election.

“I’m not particularly impressed with either candidate,” said William McCarthy, 51, a computer programmer who lives in Salem.

Mr. McCarthy, visiting the University of Virginia campus with his children to see a football game, said Mr. Allen, a Republican, seems to have been put on the defensive by Mr. Webb’s television ads that remind voters he served as secretary of the Navy under President Reagan.

Though Mr. McCarthy said Mr. Allen did a “reasonably good” job as governor of Virginia from 1994 to 1998, he favors Mr. Webb, a Democrat.

“Allen is just a little too conservative and narrow-minded on social issues,” he said.

Mr. Allen’s record as governor likely will be one of his central themes in tonight’s debate. In his stump speech, Mr. Allen talks about his signature initiatives as chief executive: the abolition of parole, welfare reform and the creation of nationally recognized education standards for public schools.

Many Republicans say Mr. Allen’s missteps should be overlooked.

“He was a great governor and he’s done a lot for this state,” said Jay Ipson, a Richmond resident and Allen supporter.

Mr. Allen’s closest friends and political allies say he will win the race despite close poll numbers if he highlights the differences between him and Mr. Webb on social issues and on taxes.

Mr. Webb, meanwhile, has targeted Mr. Allen’s position on the increasingly unpopular Iraq war.

A decorated Vietnam veteran, Mr. Webb thinks President Bush made a mistake by invading Iraq. Mr. Allen supports the president and says Iraq is central to the war on terror.

Keeping the conversation on the issues facing Virginia hasn’t been easy for Mr. Allen, who is still dogged by questions about his character.

New accusations surfaced in the Charlottesville Daily Progress yesterday that he used a well-known racial epithet to describe black playing cards during card games.

Earlier accounts said Mr. Allen used the “N-word” as a University of Virginia student. The senator has been running ads slamming Mr. Webb for what he wrote about female students at the Naval Academy in his 1979 article “Women Can’t Fight.”

Most voters interviewed by The Washington Times said they don’t care what the politicians said or didn’t say as young men, and all of the voters said they are turned off by attack ads.

“Is there a third candidate?” asked one Richmond woman who declined to be identified. “I just don’t like the negative ads.”

Race is still likely to be an issue in the remaining month of the campaign.

A Democratic-leaning group called Young Virginians for Racial Equality has an Internet ad on YouTube.com targeting Mr. Allen as racially insensitive.

“You signed a law to celebrate the Confederacy, but you voted no to making Martin Luther King’s birthday a holiday,” a young black woman says.

The ad also refers to a campaign stop in August in which Mr. Allen called an Indian-American man working for Mr. Webb “macaca.”

“Senator Allen, before we can talk about my support, we need to talk about race,” another young woman says. “What’s really in your heart?”

Much of the ad was taped at the University of Virginia campus, where many students lean liberal.

Webb supporter Stephanie Shaw, 21, said interest among students in the election has been increasing. She has been working to register voters before the deadline tomorrow.

“People are really aware of what’s going on in this race,” she said. “It’s not like every other Senate contest.”

Miss Shaw, a senior majoring in anthropology and bioethics, said social issues and rights for same-sex couples, not race, will be her deciding factor come November.

The one-hour debate, which will take place at the PBS studio in Richmond, is sponsored by the League of Women Voters and is produced by WTVR-TV and the Community Idea Stations.

Russ Mitchell, anchor of the “CBS Evening News” on Sundays, will moderate the debate before three panelists and a live studio audience.

The debate will air live at 8 p.m. on local channels WETA (Channel 26), WJLA-TW(Channel 7) and NewsChannel 8. Organizers said the debate also may be broadcast on C-SPAN and on more than a dozen radio stations.

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