Webb, Miller Refuel the Fires

Sen. John F. Kerry, left, joins James Webb at his rally in Arlington, where he called the candidate someone who would
Sen. John F. Kerry, left, joins James Webb at his rally in Arlington, where he called the candidate someone who would "bring truth" to the Senate. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
By Michael D. Shear and Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Virginia Senate candidate James Webb rallied supporters yesterday with the Democratic Party's 2004 presidential nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), hoping to spark interest in a primary that is expected to draw a tiny percentage of voters today.

Before about 250 people in Arlington County, Kerry heartily endorsed Webb, President Ronald Reagan's former Navy secretary, saying that the Senate needs the "confident leadership" and "independent thinking" that Webb has offered during the campaign.

Webb's opponent, former lobbyist Harris Miller, spent the afternoon making last-minute phone calls to prospective voters and later held a rally at his Northern Virginia headquarters in McLean.

"We cannot rest. We need to win this election tomorrow so that we can win this election in November and get the country going back in the right direction," Miller told several dozen volunteers.

Both candidates continued to run campaign ads touting their ability to defeat incumbent Sen. George Allen (R) in the fall. Miller's television ads, made possible by his investing $1 million of his personal wealth, hammer Webb on his Republican past.

"The good news for Democrats is that both Miller and Webb have shown they've got the ability to take it to Senator Allen this fall," said former governor Mark R. Warner (D). "I don't think anyone would have thought nine months ago that we would have had two competitive candidates."

Miller and Webb jumped into the void left last year when Warner decided not to challenge Allen. Since then, the two Democratic candidates have waged a spirited and at times nasty campaign that has often involved questions about what it means to be a loyal Virginia Democrat.

In stump speeches and in his campaign commercials, Miller has never missed a chance to remind voters that Webb endorsed Allen in 2000 and campaigned for George Bush that same year. Webb responded by accusing Miller of making campaign contributions to several senior Republican lawmakers, including House of Representatives Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.).

Political observers, and even the candidates themselves, say they do not know how the primary will turn out. Elections officials have said they expect between 3 percent and 5 percent of the state's registered voters to show up at the polls.

"It's impossible to know what's going to happen in this primary," Webb told about a dozen supporters at a downtown Richmond restaurant yesterday afternoon.

Later, he thanked his campaign supporters in a speech in front of his Arlington campaign headquarters. He spent much of his speech attacking President Bush, the Iraq war and Allen for what he described as failed policies.

"We have a country to lead, and the way you lead is to come together and look to the future," he said. "We need to bring an end to the Iraq war. We need to focus on economic fairness for all America. These are the issues I want to bring to the United States Senate."

Kerry also criticized Allen for supporting the war in Iraq. He said Webb would bring a fresh perspective to the Senate.

"He's a man of integrity," Kerry said of Webb during a 10-minute address that often took a populist tone. "He is the kind of person that we need who will speak across party lines, who will reach out to people whether they are Republican, independent or Democrat and talk common sense . . . to America." He called Webb someone who would "bring truth" to the Senate.

"When Jim Webb writes fiction, it's a best-selling book. When George Allen writes fiction, it's a campaign platform," Kerry said.

Miller started yesterday at the crack of dawn, greeting commuters at the Vienna Metro station. Just after lunch, he joined about three dozen campaign volunteers and thanked them for their efforts during the primary battle.

The volunteers had been going through the tedious task of calling to remind prospective voters -- largely those who had cast ballots in recent Democratic primaries -- that they had a chance to vote.

The college students, senior citizens and Miller's wife, Deborah Kahn, ate pizza, sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies as they listened to the candidate encourage them to keep up their effort for another 24 hours.

"We must get through the challenge of tomorrow," Miller said. "The Democratic Party needs someone at the top of the ticket who can win in November."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company