- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006

Virginia’s constitutional amendment on marriage will attract conservative voters who otherwise would have stayed home in frustration with national Republicans, grass-roots activists say.

The bump in turnout in November likely will benefit U.S. Sen. George Allen, a Republican who until recently appeared a lock for re-election and poised for a 2008 White House bid.

“Marriage amendments do drive turnout,” said Victoria Cobb, executive director of Virginia’s Family Foundation.

Mrs. Cobb said ballot questions defining traditional marriage in more than a dozen states in 2004 helped secure President Bush’s re-election.

“People came out to support it who would not have come out otherwise,” she said.

Mr. Allen favors amending the state constitution, but his challenger, Democrat James H. Webb Jr., opposes the constitutional change as broad and discriminatory.

Democrats say Republicans should not be so confident that the measure will pass with a large margin. They say its placement on the ballot — once considered a gift from Republican state legislators so Mr. Allen could get a landslide win — is stirring opposition in the more liberal areas of the state.

A recent Mason-Dixon poll showed the amendment winning but losing support.

“It worked in other states, but what was thought to be an asset to Senator Allen no longer will be a benefit,” said Delegate Brian J. Moran of Alexandria, who leads the state Democratic House Caucus.

Mr. Moran said Democrats can link the amendment to Mr. Allen’s highly publicized use of the word “macaca” last month to address a 20-year-old Webb volunteer who was videotaping his campaign stops.

Mr. Allen, who made the crack at a rally in Southwest Virginia, apologized within days to the Webb worker, S.R. Sidarth, who is of Indian descent. The senator has apologized repeatedly in front of other audiences.

“You’ll see a lot of people connect the dots between discrimination and macaca,” Mr. Moran said. “This is the politics of division, and there is a relationship between the two.”

Pollsters agree the remark damaged Mr. Allen’s re-election bid, eroding a double-digit lead. He and Mr. Webb are nearly tied in several polls.

The Allen-Webb race attracted national attention, and the candidates were set to meet this morning in a debate on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The outcome of the race could decide control of the Senate if Democrats win enough seats elsewhere.

Though Mr. Allen has the advantage in fundraising and name recognition, the momentum is held by the Democrats and Mr. Webb, a former Republican secretary of the Navy under President Reagan.

Activists familiar with the grass-roots efforts of both parties in Virginia say the Democrats have the organizational advantage and can build on the successes of the current governor and his predecessor, both Democrats.

“I’m getting the largest turnouts at my rallies since I had in 1992 when [Bill] Clinton was running for president,” said Rep. Rick Boucher, a Democrat from Southwest Virginia, a traditionally Republican region.

Dan Drummond, chairman of the Fairfax City Democratic Committee, agreed, saying that “grass-roots is going to win this campaign.”

Some Republicans predict that a large turnout will not be enough to save Mr. Allen from conservatives irritated about immigration policy and other voters angry at President Bush over the war in Iraq.

“There is a growing frustration that maybe it’s time for a change, maybe it is time for the Republicans to lose some power,” said Brag Bowling, a commander in Virginia’s Sons of Confederate Veterans and, until recently, a loyal Allen supporter. “They can’t wage a winning war, they can’t balance our budget, they can’t protect our borders.”

Mr. Bowling also said Mr. Allen insulted his Southern heritage when he said at a conference of historically black colleges and universities that he has come to understand that the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate and intolerance for blacks and regrets once having displayed it.

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