Warner Promises Webb Support Of United Party

Mark Warner, right, and James Webb criticize President Bush's and Sen. George Allen's response to Hurricane Katrina devastation.
Mark Warner, right, and James Webb criticize President Bush's and Sen. George Allen's response to Hurricane Katrina devastation. (By Kevin Wolf -- Associated Press)
By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 30, 2006

Former governor Mark R. Warner (D) said yesterday that he will help rally a "united" Virginia Democratic Party behind U.S. Senate nominee James Webb, pledging to campaign statewide for the first-time candidate and personally hold a fundraiser to help his campaign.

In his first public comments about Webb since the candidate defeated Harris Miller in the party primary June 13, Warner said that he was encouraged by Webb's chances of defeating Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) in November, predicting that Webb would be a "progressive and independent voice" in the Senate.

"You'll see me, Governor [Timothy M.] Kaine and other elected Democrats rally behind this candidate. . . . This is a united Democratic Party," Warner said. He said Webb would be able to draw traditional Democrats along with independents and moderate Republicans, a key formula for any Democrat to win statewide.

"He's going to mount a very aggressive campaign. . . . It's very winnable," Warner told reporters after having lunch with Webb in Old Town Alexandria.

Warner's comments yesterday reflect an effort to unite the party after the bitter primary. Webb met last week with Kaine, who remained neutral during the primary, and said he is beginning to reach out to party leaders who supported Miller.

Webb echoed comments he made earlier about his relatively poor showing among some traditionally Democratic voters, saying that even though he was "outspent 3 to 1 in the primary, every place we were able to go . . . we did very well."

In his quest to beat Allen, Webb will need the full fundraising heft of such state party leaders as Warner. Allen began the campaign with $7.5 million; Webb is comparatively penniless.

Allen's staff said yesterday that the Democrats' campaign has yet to excite Virginia, evidenced by the 3.5 percent primary turnout of registered voters.

"Jim Webb got nominated on the strength of 1.8 percent of the Virginia electorate," said Dick Wadhams, Allen's campaign manager. "That speaks for itself."

After exchanging pleasantries, Warner and Webb took turns criticizing the Bush administration and Allen for what they described as a lackluster effort in responding to Hurricane Katrina.

"The remarkable amount of devastation that still exists in that community 10 months after the fact is stunning," said Warner, who was in New Orleans recently to organize relief efforts. "It's an embarrassment that our federal government hasn't stepped up."

Webb said that he, too, has been disappointed with the response. "You have to worry about our national leadership when this strategically vital city . . . has been allowed to languish," said Webb, who is also a journalist and an author.

Wadhams shot back, indirectly criticizing Webb for not having opinions on many domestic policy issues.

Referring to one of Webb's books that was turned into a movie, "Rules of Engagement," he said:

"I would like to congratulate Hollywood movie producer James H. Webb for finally taking a position on something. Now we know that he is opposed to the devastation in New Orleans."

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