U.S. Senate Race

Democrat's Bid Begins With a Salvo

Former technology lobbyist Harris Miller (D), with his wife, Deborah, launches his Senate campaign at George Mason University.
Former technology lobbyist Harris Miller (D), with his wife, Deborah, launches his Senate campaign at George Mason University. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Democrat Harris Miller kicked off his campaign for the U.S. Senate from Virginia yesterday with a pledge to "fix the problems in Washington" by ousting George Allen, the GOP incumbent he called "part of the problem since his first day in the Senate."

Miller, 54, accused the first-term senator of rubber-stamping the Bush administration's culture of "corruption, partisanship and special-interest priorities" and said Allen's presidential aspirations have hurt Virginians.

"George Allen has spent a lot of time in New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina recently," Miller told about 30 supporters, most of them students, in the student center on George Mason University's Fairfax campus. "As far as I can tell, that has done nothing to ease gridlock for commuters here in Northern Virginia, nothing to provide health care for a single family in Tidewater, nothing to provide good jobs for those who have lost jobs in Southside or southwest Virginia."

Like many Democrats running for office this year, Miller, a party activist and former technology lobbyist from McLean, is hoping to capitalize on President Bush's low approval numbers and to tie Allen to what he called the president's failed policies in Iraq and at home.

Miller called for a higher minimum wage, a new energy policy that relies on alternative fuel sources and a renewed focus on lower health care costs for working families.

And he pledged to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq as he criticized Allen and the president for "misleading us into a war that is costing hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of American lives." Miller then traveled to Richmond for a rally and was scheduled to attend a luncheon with ministers today before heading to Wakefield for the Shad Planking, an annual political festival.

Miller left his job as president of the Arlington-based Information Technology Association of America to run against Allen in the Nov. 7 general election. But first, Miller must win a June 13 primary against James Webb, a decorated Marine who served as Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan.

Unlike Webb, Miller is a Democratic insider who worked on campaigns for years. As he stepped into the limelight yesterday, transformed from a behind-the-scenes activist to a candidate, he seemed pleased to underscore his personal American dream story, which began with a childhood in the coal and steel country of western Pennsylvania as the son of parents whose hard work running grocery stores, a car wash and other small businesses sometimes failed them.

Harris's rise to Northern Virginia's booming technology corridors made him rich, a fact his wife, Deborah, seemed to want to play down when she told a reporter to write that the candidate lives in Fairfax County rather than the wealthy enclave of McLean.

Asked after his speech how he will connect with voters in Virginia's poorest corners, Miller said he has "more in common with the people of Southside and southwest Virginia" than people might think because he grew up in Appalachia and was the first member of his family to attend college. "At that time, people were optimistic you could succeed if you work hard," he said.

Miller avoided comparisons with his Democratic opponent, saying he is focused on defeating Allen, who announced his reelection campaign last week.

Webb spokesman Kristian Denny-Todd declined to comment on Miller's campaign kickoff.

But Allen's campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, called Miller a Howard Dean protege with a lot of money. "It's impressive that Harris Miller is able to recite his talking points from Howard Dean," he said, referring to the former Vermont governor and Democratic presidential candidate. "We look forward to the eventual winner of the wealthy, liberal, self-funding primary."

Miller and Webb have used their own money to finance their campaigns, Miller with cash, Webb through a loan. Miller announced last week that he had raised $539,000, almost double Webb's $260,000.

Miller has tied himself to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and former governor Mark R. Warner, Democrats whose popularity is revitalizing their party in Virginia.

"Virginians know that there is a better way to govern," Miller said. "They've seen it right here in Virginia."

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