Webb Faces Large Hurdles Against Allen

By Michael D. Shear and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Democratic nominee for Senate in Virginia started the first day of his campaign against Republican George Allen in a hospital, where long-delayed surgery was performed on his right hand, prompting jokes about having to take on Allen with one arm tied behind his back.

"That'll be our campaign motto," chortled Steve Jarding, senior campaign strategist for James Webb, who defeated Harris Miller in Tuesday's primary.

But jokes aside, Webb faces daunting challenges in his bid to oust Allen on Nov. 7, according to Virginia Democrats and Republicans. They predicted a hard-fought, high-stakes campaign that will attract national attention because of Allen's exploration of a 2008 presidential bid.

"If he can beat George Allen, there is no question that both the Senate and the House will be in Democratic hands," said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D).

Moran's Republican colleague, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, said Webb offers national Democrats the chance they wanted -- to force Allen into a costly reelection battle even as he looks to the White House.

"Jim Webb offers potential as a candidate with his war hero status," said Davis, who once coached a Fairfax Little League team with Webb. "But raising the money and translating that into an organized campaign can be difficult."

Davis added, "You can't underestimate George Allen."

Webb starts off with a powerful issue in his early opposition to the war in Iraq. But he has virtually no campaign cash, while Allen has a $7.5 million bankroll that he could use without challenge this summer. Democrats said Webb can expect help from former governor Mark R. Warner (D) and others, but only if he demonstrates an ability to raise money on his own first.

"He's going to have to raise tons of money," Moran said. "He has to get some poll numbers that show he's truly competitive."

National Democratic leaders said Webb's victory puts Allen's seat in play in November, and they pledged to help the novice candidate.

"Webb is in a great position to bring Bush voters, Reagan Democrats back into the fold," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who endorsed Webb in the primary. "He can really create the coalition."

Allen campaign manager Dick Wadhams said the senator is eager to campaign against a Democrat weakened by a divisive primary.

"This was a very fractured, divided Democratic Party coming out of this primary," Wadhams said after the vote. "It's clear from the results that it's going to take a lot to pull that party together after the charges and countercharges."

Webb defeated Miller, a former lobbyist, by seven percentage points. But he did so by focusing almost exclusively on one issue, Iraq.

"He needs to broaden the issues which he is able to address," said state Del. David E. Poisson (D-Loudoun), who was elected last year.

Webb has spoken about the economy, saying the nation is in danger of creating "a permanent underclass." But he offered few specifics on health care, education, tax policy or even foreign affairs.

And Webb's history of criticizing affirmative action programs appeared to take a toll. Miller trounced Webb in nearly all of the state's majority black communities.

"When he gets an opportunity to meet the members of the Black Caucus, when he gets an opportunity to . . . get into the African American community, they'll see what I saw," said Del. A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond), a black lawmaker who endorsed Webb.

Staff writer Chris L. Jenkins contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company