By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 8, 2006; B05
RICHMOND, Feb. 7 -- James Webb, who served as President Ronald Reagan's Navy secretary, said Tuesday that he will seek the Democratic nomination to run against U.S. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) this year, hoping to challenge the one-term incumbent on foreign policy and the conduct of the war in Iraq.
"I don't wake up in the morning wanting to be a U.S. senator," Webb said in an interview. "I wake up every morning very concerned about the country. We need to put some focus back in our foreign policy, a different focus."
Webb, who has been flirting with a Senate bid for months, declined to elaborate about his decision or his campaign plans. But he said he will file papers this week to officially become a candidate. He said he will formally announce his plans as early as next week.
"Yes, we're going to file papers later this week," he said. In addition to a focus on foreign policy, he said his campaign would "look very hard at all the notions of fairness in our society."
Allen's chief of staff, Dick Wadhams, said of Webb's announcement: "Senator Allen has always expected a competitive race. We will run on competitiveness, national security and values."
Before he can face Allen, though, Webb needs to get past former lobbyist Harris Miller, who announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination last month. Miller quit his job as head of the Information Technology Association of America to run.
"I can make a difference by focusing on the future instead of getting caught up in cheap partisan politics," Miller said last month.
Miller's spokesman, Brian Cook, said Tuesday that Webb's candidacy "doesn't affect our campaign. We're going to keep going around Virginia explaining how Washington is broken and making the case for why Harris Miller is the best person to fix it."
A former Marine, Webb served in Vietnam and was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts. On his personal Web site, he describes having been raised in a family with "a strong citizen-soldier military tradition."
He is also a novelist and filmmaker, having written "Rules of Engagement," a 2000 film that opens with a confrontation involving U.S. Marines in Yemen.
But winning the Democratic nomination in Virginia this year will require Webb to explain his Republican roots.
He had served as an assistant secretary of defense under Reagan and was appointed secretary of the Navy in 1987. A year later, Webb resigned the post abruptly amid clashes with Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci.
"It's no secret that I'm not a person who wears a bridle well," Webb told reporters at the time.
In 1994, Webb endorsed Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) for reelection over retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, calling North a chronic liar. Six years later, Webb switched sides, endorsing Allen, the man he now hopes to beat. At the time, Webb said Allen was "better on issues of national security" than Robb was.
Webb declined to talk Tuesday about a Democratic battle between himself and Miller. "That's something that will have to be addressed. That's all to come," he said, adding that he will roll out his campaign after having surgery on his hand, scheduled for Friday.
Webb has been the subject of an aggressive political draft effort on the Internet at http://www.draftjameswebb.com/ , which claims more than 999 signatures on his behalf.
The Raising Kaine blog, a Virginia Democratic site, lists dozens of comments urging Webb to campaign against Allen.
"PLEASE RUN!!!" says an entry from Herndon. "Virginia needs you, the country needs you. We need to restore sanity and integrity to Congress."
A comment from Alexandria said: "When the pundits and critics point out that you aren't a 'real' Democrat, just paraphrase Ronald Reagan and say: 'I didn't leave the Republican Party. They left me.' "
Steve Jarding, who managed former governor Mark R. Warner's campaign in 2001, said he had met with Webb several times in the past few weeks.
"He's fearless and a tremendously exciting candidate," Jarding said. "I'm unbelievably impressed with him. He's got the perfect profile to run against George Allen."
Jarding said Webb's story -- a decorated Republican veteran turned Democrat -- is compelling enough to help Democrats defeat Allen.
"This is Ronald Reagan's secretary of the Navy saying, 'The Democratic Party is closer to my ideals,' " Jarding said. "This is the genuine, real deal."