Reagan Navy Secretary Enters Race to Challenge Sen. Allen

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 8, 2006

RICHMOND, March 7 -- James Webb, a Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan, formally announced Tuesday that he will seek the Democratic nomination to run against U.S. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) in November.

Webb, 60, a decorated Marine and novelist, said he will focus his campaign on national defense, and he sharply criticized the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

"The foreign policy of this administration has been taken over by people who would do something we've never done in our history, and that is to attempt to export our ideology at the point of a gun," he said in a news conference at the Virginia Capitol.

He also said he wants to solve basic problems confronting middle-class Americans and declared that the Republican Party has been consumed by an "extreme" social agenda. "In my lifetime, the answers are going to be in the Democratic Party," said Webb, a former Republican.

To face Allen on Nov. 7, Webb must get past former lobbyist Harris Miller in the June 13 Democratic primary. Miller announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in January and quit his job as head of the Information Technology Association of America.

Webb said he was focused on defeating Allen, 54, who plans to seek a second six-year term.

"We welcome him to the race, and we know there will be a spirited primary between two self-funding liberals," said Dick Wadhams, Allen's chief of staff.

An aide for Miller, 54, said Miller's campaign also was focused on defeating Allen and avoided direct comparisons between the two Democrats.

"We welcome Jim Webb to the race and to the Virginia Democratic Party," said Taylor West, spokesman for the Miller campaign. "There will be plenty of time to find out where he stands on the issues important to Virginia families and Virginia Democrats."

Political observers said that Webb's immediate hurdles include explaining his Republican roots to Democratic activists, who often make up the bulk of primary voters. But one student of Virginia politics said Webb's military background -- he served in Vietnam and was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts -- is a plus.

"With his record on defense, Webb has what it takes to give George Allen fits," said Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. But "he has a long record of having backed Republicans, including George Allen."

Webb said he defected from the Democratic Party in 1976 because of its stance on foreign policy but said he has a long history of supporting Democrats, including former senator Bob Kerrey during his short-lived presidential run in 1992, and former senator Charles S. Robb against Republican Oliver L. North in 1994.

But Webb also supported Allen in his race against Robb in 2000, criticizing the Clinton administration along the way. Webb said he voted for President Bush in 2000 but did not support him in 2004.

Webb sought to play down his partisan affiliations over the years.

"It's more important for me to say: Are you a leader?" he said. "I'm a leader."

Webb appeared to still be formulating some of his opinions on issues facing Virginia voters. When asked whether he supports a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage that will come before voters in November, he said that he supports civil unions but that marriage is a "religious issue."

When pressed on his view on the ballot question, he said: "I'll have to get back to you on that" before answering: "Right now, from the wording of the language, I think it's unnecessary to go that far."

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