By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 17, 2006
James Webb, the Democratic nominee for Senate in Virginia, said yesterday that he disagreed with some Senate Democrats who favored setting a deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq during this week's congressional debate on the war.
In his first news conference since defeating Harris Miller in Tuesday's Democratic primary, Webb said the United States should embark "carefully" on any troop withdrawal.
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the 2004 presidential nominee who endorsed Webb in his race against Miller, was one of a group of Democrats who sought to pressure the Bush administration to withdraw troops by the end of the year.
Webb, an early opponent of the war who has long maintained there should be no hard deadline for withdrawal, said during the telephone conference from his Arlington County headquarters that "setting a date certain is not the way to go."
"We got in kind of recklessly, and we need to get out carefully because . . . our presence has affected the entire region," he said.
He said that the United States should seek to involve other Middle Eastern countries, such as Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain, in diplomatic efforts to stabilize the region.
"We should get those countries involved overtly into the diplomatic process," he said.
He also said it should be made clear to the Iraqi government that the United States did not intend to stay there indefinitely. "We need to state clearly that we have no long-term objectives for occupying the region," he said.
"But I can't sit here as a candidate . . . and give a specific formula. It's a logistic issue."
Webb is beginning an uphill, five-month battle against popular incumbent Sen. George Allen (R), who has $7.5 million for the campaign.
Webb's campaign is almost penniless by comparison. But national Democratic leaders have flagged the race as one to watch, partly because they hope to slow Allen's potential 2008 presidential ambitions.
They are also hopeful that Webb, a Vietnam War hero and secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan with roots in rural Virginia, can woo independent voters and disaffected Republicans to the Democratic Party as part of a national strategy to take back Congress in the Nov. 7 general election.
Allen's campaign immediately pounced on Webb's comments, saying that although the candidate may have opposed the war, he has not offered any concrete solutions on how to manage the conflict.
"Once again, a clear pattern of behavior is starting to set in with Mr. Webb," said Dick Wadhams, Allen's press secretary. Allen, like President Bush, does not support a deadline to withdraw troops. Of Webb, Wadhams added: "He can articulately talk about why he opposed going to war. But if you go back and look at his statements during the primary, there was nothing there. There was no specific stand."
Webb also said yesterday that to be a more effective candidate, he'll have to get up to speed on domestic policy issues, which he largely avoided talking about during his four-month primary campaign.
"It is a learning curve for me in many cases," he said of education, health care and other issues. But he promised to broaden his message in the coming weeks. "I think some people think this is a one-issue campaign. It's not."
Webb also acknowledged that as he works to lure disaffected Republicans, he will have to reach out to traditional party supporters. In the primary, many blacks voted for his opponent.
He said his lack of support among blacks had more to do with his late start in the campaign.
"There were a lot of questions about my affiliation with the Democratic Party," Webb said of the primary election campaign. "But getting out and talking to people helped us everywhere we went."