Webb Wins Democratic Nomination In Virginia

James Webb celebrates his victory with former representative Leslie L. Byrne, left, and his wife, Hong Le Webb.
James Webb celebrates his victory with former representative Leslie L. Byrne, left, and his wife, Hong Le Webb. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Virginia Democrats yesterday chose Vietnam War hero James Webb to challenge Sen. George Allen (R), siding with their party's national leadership, which had declared the former Republican to be the only candidate with a chance to beat Allen in November.

Webb's support from Democratic senators such as 2004 presidential nominee John F. Kerry (Mass.) swamped the textbook campaign of his opponent, former lobbyist Harris Miller, who used $1 million of his own money to question Webb's commitment to the Democratic Party's core principles.

In other primaries, Democrat Andrew Hurst, a lawyer, defeated Ken Longmyer, a retired Foreign Service officer, for the chance to run against Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R) in the Nov. 7 general election. Republican Tom O'Donoghue, a military veteran, beat Mark Ellmore, a mortgage broker, and will run against Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D).

Webb, who was outspent 3 to 1, tapped into national anger over the Iraq war and a desire among Democrats to reach out to moderates who have drifted to the Republican Party over social issues and national security. Webb captured almost two-thirds of the vote across the populous suburban counties in Northern Virginia.

"In too many cases, our leaders are not equal to the challenges they face," Webb said to a screaming crowd at the Crystal City Hilton as he accepted the nomination and promised new leadership in Washington. To Allen, he said: "I wonder, George, what leadership? It's not leadership to follow this administration blindly 97 percent of the time."

The springtime squabble between Democrats produced a near-record low turnout that a state election official described as "dismal." Polling places across Virginia reported being empty for long stretches, even though voting was open to all of the state's 4.5 million registered voters.

Webb now faces the challenge of raising millions of dollars in an attempt to oust Allen, a popular ex-governor who is considering a bid for the presidency in 2008. Allen has more than $7.5 million in the bank and a long history of winning in a state that usually votes for Republicans in federal contests.

Allen, the son of a beloved Washington Redskins coach by the same name, became a darling among conservatives as governor in the mid-1990s, when he abolished parole, toughened education standards and changed the welfare system. He left office in 1997 with strong approval ratings and beat incumbent Charles S. Robb (D) in the 2000 Senate race.

Allen's campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, said the Republicans look forward to running against a "very fractured, divided Democratic Party" and "having John Kerry . . . campaign with Mr. Webb."

But Allen is running for reelection in the midst of national frustration with congressional corruption scandals, the war in Iraq and rising gas prices. Webb vowed to make Allen answer for those issues as an insider and a Bush administration loyalist.

It was just that contrast that national Democratic leaders hoped to stoke. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Webb made a powerful connection with voters.

"He's an original, and that makes a difference to people," Schumer said after Webb's victory.

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How Virginia Voted in the Democratic Senate Primary
How Virginia Voted in the Democratic Senate Primary
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