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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)

"How about white men for Webb?" one supporter asked.

"Bubbas for Webb!" she responded.

Next stop: Viva! Vienna! -- a collection of vendors, carnival rides and food stalls in the heart of the town and a magnet for politicians. There he met Phil Calkins of Vienna and Frankie Gibson of Oakland, two Democratic voters who had questions and reservations.

"The only thing I really know about him is that he served in the Reagan administration," Calkins said -- and that was not a plus from his point of view.

"The strong issue for me coming out of the Vietnam War was national defense," said Webb, who explained that he agreed more with the Republicans about that. But he said he has voted for Democrats and Republicans and pointed out that a number of Democratic senators, including Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), support him.

He sketched out stands he thought would help -- "I spoke out against the Iraq War long before it started; I'm pro-choice; I support gay rights" -- and something he figured wouldn't help -- "I am a Second Amendment guy" supporting gun rights. "I'm a realist on foreign policy," he told them, "a populist on economic issues."

Calkins and Gibson weren't quite sure what to do with that information, although they brought up the idea that the Webb campaign most wants to promote: that he is the Democrat with the best chance of defeating Allen.

Veterans are usually what Webb's Memorial Days are about. At the end of a television interview about the campaign that day, when asked whether he had anything else to add, Webb replied: "It's Memorial Day. Go visit a grave."

That's what he had done earlier in the day at Arlington National Cemetery. Webb says he visits Arlington every year on Memorial Day. But on Monday, he rode through the hills in a Jeep emblazoned with his name and campaign slogan -- "Born Fighting" -- trailed by two reporters. He got a lot of looks, and then a man approached him.

"Are you Jim Webb?'' the man asked.

I am, Webb answered.

"Cheap political stunt," the man said and turned to walk away.

The man's name is Fred Hoffman, and he and Webb served under Caspar W. Weinberger when he was defense secretary. Hoffman, who volunteers at Arlington, said in an interview later that "that vehicle caught my eye." When he saw Webb talking to reporters, "it struck me that he was trying to gain a political advantage on this day."

Webb's staff members pointed out that they would rather have had him at a campaign event than at Arlington Cemetery, and Webb said he refused to answer questions about politics while he was there.

"People are going to think whatever they think," he said. "It is what it is. I know what I care about."

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