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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)

Miller campaigned on the strength of his 30-year ties to Virginia's Democratic establishment. In his concession speech just after 9 p.m., Miller congratulated Webb and promised to support the party's efforts to defeat Allen.

"Let me tell you what George Allen's worst nightmare is: a unified Democratic Party," Miller told the crowd gathered last night at the Sheraton Premiere Tysons Corner hotel. "The Democratic Party is stronger tonight because of this contest."

Webb was a halting, unpolished candidate, never having run for public office. But his résumé as a former Republican and an early critic of the Iraq war appeared to be as tantalizing to the state's rank-and-file Democrats as it was to the party's national leaders.

"I think he can give Allen a run for his money," said Harry Massey, 50, of Baileys Crossroads, who works for a trade organization in Rosslyn. "He's pro-choice. He's antiwar. And he is certainly more receptive to the downstate voters."

Others disagreed.

"Miller seems like a centrist, and that's the way Virginia Democrats can win," said Brenna Copeland, 30, who cast her ballot at the Lyon Park Community Center before heading to work.

Election officials said just over 3 percent of voters went to the polls, far less than the 16 percent who voted in the 1996 primary between Republican Sen. John W. Warner and former Reagan budget director James C. Miller III.

"I just don't understand," said Jean Jensen, secretary of the state Board of Elections. "It's dismal. It's not even very high in Fairfax County," where both candidates live.

Democrats first turned to Miller after Mark R. Warner (D) decided to build on his popularity upon leaving the governor's office to pursue the White House rather than to oppose Allen. Warner urged Miller, a longtime friend, to run.

But what initially seemed like a clear path to the nomination became muddied for Miller in February, when Webb indicated that he would take a break from his lucrative writing career to seek the nomination.

"I don't wake up in the morning wanting to be a U.S. senator," Webb said at the time. "I wake up every morning very concerned about the country. We need to put some focus back in our foreign policy, a different focus."

His decision sparked a brief but fierce fight within Virginia's Democratic Party. For three months, party traditionalists who backed Miller clashed with young and passionately antiwar bloggers, who had helped to persuade Webb to jump into the Senate race.

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How Virginia Voted in the Democratic Senate Primary
How Virginia Voted in the Democratic Senate Primary
© 2006 The Washington Post Company