By Robert Barnes and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 8, 2006
The head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee broke with tradition yesterday and urged Virginians to vote for James Webb in the U.S. Senate primary Tuesday.
"With Jim Webb as the Democratic nominee in Virginia, we have an opportunity to give George Allen a real run for his money. He's our best hope for defeating Allen in November," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the DSCC chairman. "Jim's a real fighter -- he has the experience, energy and commitment to make this a winnable race."
It is extremely unusual for a DSCC chairman to endorse a candidate in a contested primary. The move reflects a consensus among national Democrats that Webb -- a former Republican, author, war hero and Navy secretary -- will make a stronger general election candidate than lobbyist and longtime Democratic Party activist Harris Miller.
"We respect Senator Schumer and the job he does for New York," Miller spokeswoman Taylor West said. "But we are running this race in Virginia, and we are going to win this race in Virginia."
The formulation is starting to become routine for the Miller campaign, as Schumer becomes the ninth Democratic senator to endorse Webb. Last week, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) -- the 2004 presidential nominee -- endorsed Webb, and by yesterday voters in Northern Virginia were receiving recorded messages from him urging support for Webb.
Schumer's strong comments seemed to raise questions about how active the DSCC would be in Virginia should Miller win Tuesday's primary. A committee spokesman would not elaborate on Schumer's statement.
"The thing is, they want to win, and they know Harris Miller won't come close," Webb spokeswoman Kristian Denny Todd said. "They serve with George Allen in the Senate, and they know what it takes to run against him."
At the last reporting period, Miller had about twice as much money on hand as Webb, who has not been able to afford television or radio spots.
West said that with a recent contribution, Miller has now put about $725,000 of his money into the campaign, more than the total the Webb campaign has raised.
This is not the first time Schumer has exerted his influence in a primary. In Pennsylvania, Schumer made clear that state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. was his preferred candidate to take on Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), angering many abortion rights advocates who were behind former lieutenant governor Barbara Hafer. Casey opposes abortion rights.
In Ohio, Paul Hackett accused Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) of drying up his contributions to force him to drop out of the primary. He angrily complied in February, leaving Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) to focus his energy on Sen. Mike DeWine (R).
West denied a contention from the Webb campaign that Schumer thinks Miller's campaign has been too negative.
"At one point early on, he talked to both campaigns" about negativity, West said. "For the Webb campaign to try to spin this as a reflection on negative campaigning is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."