James H. Webb Jr., a Reagan Republican-turned-Democrat, defeated longtime party activist Harris N. Miller in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate in Virginia yesterday, according to unofficial election results.
With more than 99 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Webb, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, had 53 percent of the vote, while Mr. Miller garnered 47 percent, according to unofficial results posted on the Virginia State Board of Elections Web site.
Mr. Webb will face Republican incumbent Sen. George Allen, a possible presidential candidate in 2008 who has more than $7 million in his campaign war chest.
Last night, Mr. Webb told supporters gathered at the Hilton Crystal City Hotel at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport that voters want someone who is not going to follow the Bush administration “blindly” like Mr. Allen.
“I stand here today because you believed in a vision, not just my vision, a vision for this country,” Mr. Webb told supporters after winning the party’s nomination.
“Many of you called on me months ago because you wanted a leader to carry that vision to Washington. … Too much was at stake, and the time had come to bring this country on a different course,” he said. “That is a call I am glad I answered.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Miller told supporters gathered at the Sheraton Premier Hotel at Tysons Corner to back Mr. Webb and focus on unseating the politically tested Mr. Allen.
“Jim Webb is going to be a great United States senator, and I am going to help him beat George Allen,” Mr. Miller said.
Political observers said the race between Mr. Webb and Mr. Allen will be interesting to follow.
“That could be a knock-down, dirty fight,” said Toni-Michelle Travis, a political science professor at George Mason University. “Webb is somebody that has those military credentials that could really put Allen in his place.”
Except for the D.C. suburbs, turnout was paltry across Virginia, a state unaccustomed to primaries. The last Democratic Senate primary was in 1994. An estimated 3.4 percent of the state’s 4.5 million registered voters voted in the primary for the Senate.
In other primaries in the state yesterday, Republican Tom M. O’Donoghue beat challenger Mark. W. Ellmore in the 8th District Republican primary. Mr. O’Donoghue had 69 percent of the vote to Mr. Ellmore’s 31 percent, early returns showed. The winner will challenge eight-term Rep. James P. Moran in November.
Democrat Andrew L. Hurst defeated challenger Ken Longmyer in the 11th District for their party’s nomination to run against Republican Rep. Thomas M. Davis III. Mr. Hurst had 55 percent of the vote to Mr. Longmyer’s 45 percent, unofficial results show.
The campaign between Mr. Webb and Mr. Miller heated up last month, when Mr. Miller, 54, a former president of the Information Technology Association of America, and Mr. Webb, 60, a best-selling author who earned the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts in Vietnam, began trading barbs about each other’s loyalty to the Democratic Party.
Mr. Miller, a McLean resident and former chairman of the Fairfax County Democratic Party, railed against Mr. Webb for supporting President Bush and Mr. Allen in 2000, and repeatedly criticizing former President Clinton.
Mr. Webb, a Falls Church resident, retaliated by knocking Mr. Miller for contributing more than $5,500 to Republicans in Congress, including House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, when he worked as a lobbyist on Capitol Hill.
They also jockeyed for political endorsements, which stressed a local versus national split in the Democratic Party that more often than not put ideologues behind Mr. Miller, the conventional Democrat, and the “anyone but Allen” pragmatists behind Mr. Webb.
Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, helped both candidates raise more than $220,000.
Both painted Mr. Allen as political lackey who voted 97 percent of the time with Mr. Bush. They said Mr. Allen rubber-stamped failed policies that caused the national debt to balloon, led to the deaths of U.S. troops in the Iraq war and caused the president’s job-approval ratings to plunge.
They also said Mr. Allen was more concerned with campaigning across the country for a presidential bid than representing Virginians on Capitol Hill. Both said they supported civil unions for homosexuals.
Mr. Webb’s campaign centered on foreign policy and national security issues. He touted his early public opposition to the war in Iraq as an example of the leadership he could bring.
Mr. Miller called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, a higher minimum wage and stiffer sanctions, including jail time, for employers who hire illegal aliens.
Michael Hunsberger contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.