Two Events That May Reveal Whether Virginia Is Edging Left

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 22, 2006

Two events from last week have the power to reshape Virginia's politics for years to come: the agreement -- finally -- on a state budget and the choice by Democrats of James Webb to challenge Republican George Allen for his Senate seat.

In both cases, the long-term impact will depend on the will of voters in future elections. The decisions they make could reinforce Virginia's reputation as a conservative state or accelerate a shift toward moderation, or even effect a slight liberal tilt.

Voters will get their next chance to show their leanings on Nov. 7, when Webb, a secretary of the Navy in the second Reagan administration, faces Allen in what could be the state's nastiest Senate race since Oliver L. North (R) tried to defeat Charles S. Robb (D) in 1994.

Allen is the front-runner, thanks to his incumbency and his popularity. He served as a state delegate, a member of Congress and governor before defeating Robb in 2000 for the Senate seat.

But Webb has captured the fancy of national Democrats, who see in the former Marine a chance to dent, if not fatally damage, Allen's political reputation. Democratic leaders in the Senate endorsed Webb in the recent primary and now promise support.

Why are they so eager?

In part because Democrats believe they have more than a faint hope of retaking control of the Senate in November, and defeating Allen would be key. Also, because Allen is considering a bid for the presidency, any political damage inflicted during the Senate race would do double duty.

To that end, the electioneers at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee this week unveiled an attack Web site: .

The site hints at the approach national Democrats will take during the next four months, hoping to convince voters that Allen's political eye is wandering. Whether voters believe that and punish Allen in the fall is anyone's guess.

If they do, it might finally convince people that Virginia is changing, cementing a shift that began when Democrat Mark R. Warner won the governorship in 2001 and continued through Timothy M. Kaine's election as Warner's Democratic successor.

Virginia voters will get another shot at expressing themselves a year later, in legislative elections in November 2007.

The entire House of Delegates and all 40 members of the state Senate will be up for reelection next year, giving Virginians a chance to offer their opinions on the job lawmakers have been doing.

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