A Different Sort of Memorial Day for Webb

James Webb, candidate for Senate, greeted Diane Woolheater at the Viva! Vienna! event on Memorial Day.
James Webb, candidate for Senate, greeted Diane Woolheater at the Viva! Vienna! event on Memorial Day. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 2, 2006

James Webb's Monday began as almost every morning begins these days: He laced up his combat boots and climbed into the passenger seat of a camo-painted Jeep.

A sense of the military is ever-present in Webb's U.S. Senate campaign, where 2002 is pronounced "twenty-oh-two" and his traveling companions are two fellow former Marines. This Memorial Day, a special day for a man whose family legacy is military service, would be unlike any other in his 60 years.

He encouraged his campaign volunteers, who praised him. He shyly walked a parade route as crowds politely applauded him. He auditioned for a skeptical pair of Democratic voters, who interrogated him. And -- this one stung a little -- he met a veteran, who rebuked him. It was another day of lessons for Webb, a war hero-Navy secretary-lawyer-journalist-author- screenwriter-businessman trying on a new role: politician.

The education has come on the fly for Webb, who waited until February before officially deciding to take on Fairfax County lobbyist and longtime Democratic insider Harris Miller in the June 13 primary. The winner will face Sen. George Allen (R) as he seeks a second term.

"We started late," he told volunteers at his Arlington headquarters. "We've been doing basically two years of work in a few months, which has made it enormously hard to get out everything that we want to do."

Webb dressed for the day in a checked shirt, Banana Republic khakis, a baseball cap with an American flag emblem and the boots, which he says he wears in tribute to his son, a Marine who is set to be in Iraq by September. He stood in front of an American flag and rallied his troops with, yes, military history.

Five of his ancestors, he said, fought in the American Revolution battle of King's Mountain, where the British troops stuck to traditional warfare of the time and the colonials were allowed to make their own decisions. "And they went out there, and they surrounded them, and they kicked the living tar out of the British," he said. "And that's basically what we're going to have to do here. Every one of you really is your own officer. We've got two weeks to put it together and do it."

Many of those volunteers turned up later on a sweltering street in Falls Church for the town's annual parade; the Webb contingent had more than 75 supporters, two convertibles, Arlington Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid H. Morroy on bullhorn and a somewhat reluctant-looking candidate.

"All right, what do you want me to do?" Webb asked.

He walked right down the middle of the street for the first part of the parade, smiling but neither waving nor shaking hands with the folks gathered on the curb. He eventually got into the swing of it, moving from one side of the street to the other, with Morroy leading the supporters in chants.

"Women for Webb!"

"Unions for Webb!"

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