Thursday, June 8, 2006

Democrats and Republicans say it. And James H. Webb Jr., of Falls Church, agrees with it.

Mr. Webb, the Republican-turned-Democrat and Vietnam War veteran, is the wild card in this year’s U.S. Senate race in Virginia.

“I’m not a political person in the traditional sense of the word,” he said.

Mr. Webb, 60, is a jarring contrast to Democrat Harris N. Miller, a former information technology executive and Mr. Webb’s rival in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. The winner will face incumbent Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, in November.

While his opponent travels Virginia in a silver Mercury Mariner hybrid driven by a staff member with neatly gelled hair, Mr. Webb rides in a camouflaged Jeep Cherokee driven by Michael “Mac” McGarvey, who served as Mr. Webb’s radio operator in Vietnam before a piece of shrapnel ripped off his right arm.

“Born Fighting,” reads a message that hangs across the four-door Jeep. “Operation: Take Back Virginia.”

Democrats are suspicious of — but intrigued by — Mr. Webb, who said the Bush administration has caused the U.S. “to be disliked around the world,” that it has abused its executive power and forgotten fiscal responsibility.

Mr. Webb’s roots within the Republican Party prompt the suspicion.

He spent four years as a Republican counsel on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and President Reagan appointed him secretary of the Navy in 1987. In 2000, Mr. Webb endorsed Mr. Allen over incumbent Sen. Charles S. Robb, Virginia Democrat. Mr. Webb supported Mr. Robb in 1994.

His maverick image fuels the intrigue. He was wounded twice leading an infantry platoon in Vietnam and earned the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.

Mr. Webb is pro-gun and pro-choice. He supports homosexual rights and honors Confederate soldiers for their military service despite disagreeing with their mission.

The retired Marine was one of the first military figures to publicly oppose the war in Iraq, but he supports the troops. He has said his son, a U.S. Marine rifleman, is scheduled to go to Iraq in September. “I honor his service,” Mr. Webb told The Washington Times.

Last month, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner helped ease the suspicion. He helped Mr. Webb raise $125,000 at a fundraiser in Arlington and praised him as “somebody who is not afraid to take on a fight.”

Mr. Webb, who so far has raised nearly $548,000, also got a boost from labor unions and prominent Democrats including Rep. John P. Murtha, of Pennsylvania and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said Mr. Webb was the “best hope” to defeat Mr. Allen.

“My objective is to stay who I am, and stay with what I believe in,” Mr. Webb told The Times in a recent interview.

A best-selling author, Mr. Webb is proud of his Scots-Irish fighting spirit — the basis of his latest book “Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America.” That spirit cropped up at a press conference last month, when Mr. Webb told Mr. Miller, “Harris, if you shut your mouth, I’ll answer the question.”

So far, Mr. Webb has led such an unorthodox campaign that at one point Mr. Miller told The Times that he was worried that he was missing something.

On Memorial Day — when politicians traditionally meet voters at local parades — Mr. Webb spent the early afternoon, like he does every year, at Arlington National Cemetery, visiting the graves of soldiers, including that of his father, a World War II pilot.

“Honestly, I’d rather have him out shaking hands, but this is who he is,” his campaign manager Kristian Denny-Todd said at the time.

After paying tribute, Mr. Webb made a few stops at local parades.

“I don’t want to turn into a person who I don’t like,” Mr. Webb told The Times. “I’m like a huge group of people there that haven’t really fit in with either party, so I know there is a resistance in some areas of the Democratic structure, and I suppose there are people in the Republican side who feel I’ve jumped ship.”

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide