Monday, September 4, 2006

BUENA VISTA, Va. — The campaign season in Virginia officially kicked off at the annual Labor Day parade here yesterday without one of the top two U.S. Senate candidates, who skipped the traditional festivities to spend time with his family.

As Republican Sen. George Allen, clad in a cowboy hat, rode a horse named Bubba and waved to people along the parade route, his Democratic challenger, James H. Webb Jr., drove his son Jimmy, a 24-year-old Marine lance corporal, to Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he is scheduled for deployment to Iraq today.

“The contrast couldn’t be starker,” former Gov. Mark Warner told The Washington Times, after spending the morning campaigning for Mr. Webb in the city in Southwest Virginia.

The events of the day spoke to Mr. Allen and Mr. Webb’s contrasting views on the war in Iraq.

A seasoned politician and the son of a Hall of Fame football coach, Mr. Allen has been one of the strongest supporters of President Bush’s desire to stay the course in Iraq. Mr. Allen has said American troops should be drawn down as the Iraqi troops stand up.

“That government is like an infant,” Mr. Allen told The Times yesterday. “It’s not yet walking, and we should help it walk, live on its own and provide for itself.”

When asked about Mr. Webb’s son, Mr. Allen said, “I wish him the best.”

A decorated Vietnam War veteran who served as Navy secretary under President Reagan, Mr. Webb was one of the first national figures to oppose the war publicly. He has railed against the Bush administration, citing failed leadership and a lack of foresight and saying the misguided decision to fight in Iraq has drained U.S. resources needed to fight international terrorism.

Mr. Webb said the U.S. needs to work with some of Iraq’s neighbors on a plan that would allow troops to leave as soon as possible without jeopardizing the region’s stability.

Democrats said Mr. Webb’s experience — as a war veteran, a best-selling author and a father of a U.S. Marine in Iraq — would bring a much-needed perspective to Capitol Hill.

“When he’s there helping our country decide upon its path going forward, he is not going to be making decisions about other people’s kids; he’s going to be making decisions about his own family, which will bring a very, very important perspective to the table in Washington that it has not seen very much in this nation,” said Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat.

Rhonda Winfield, a Stuart Drafts resident and an Allen supporter, said Mr. Webb likely is feeling some of the same “terror and pride” she experienced when her 19-year-old son, Jason Redifer, left for Iraq.

She said her son was killed on Jan. 31, 2005, two hours after she spoke with him on the phone. The Humvee in which he was riding ran over an improvised explosive device south of Baghdad.

“Patriotism should not be partisan,” Ms. Winfield said. “We have to remember those are Republicans, those are Democrats, those are anything in between there that have given their lives for us to do exactly what we are doing here today.”

Mr. Webb seemed to share Ms. Winfield’s point of view in an e-mail he sent to The Times yesterday.

“I want to emphasize that I’m going through the same mental and emotional process as thousands of other parents,” Mr. Webb wrote. “The only difference is that I’m a public figure. I’m very proud of my son. Neither he nor I want him to be viewed differently than any of his fellow Marines. He’s a tough young man and a fine Marine. And regardless of the political aspects of this war, it’s essential that these guys are able to control the battle space they’ve been assigned and bring as many Marines back home as is humanly possible.”

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