'Virginia Values' vs. 'Fresh Eyes'

U.S. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), left, pressed rival James Webb for details on certain issues; Webb took aim at Allen's ties to President Bush.
U.S. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), left, pressed rival James Webb for details on certain issues; Webb took aim at Allen's ties to President Bush. (By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)
By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 23, 2006

HOT SPRINGS, Va., July 22 -- Sen. George Allen and his Democratic challenger, James Webb, faced each other Saturday in the first debate of the Virginia general election campaign, clashing over the war in Iraq but finding common ground in their affection for former president Ronald Reagan.

Webb, wearing the combat boots that have come to define the former Marine's nontraditional campaign, and Allen, dressed in the cowboy boots that are part of his political persona, laid out the themes they plan to highlight in the fall campaign.

"I would like to ask the people of Virginia, 'Is the country better off than it was six years ago' " when Allen was elected to the Senate? Webb asked. "Are we more respected around the world? Is our economy truly fairer to all Americans? Is your job secure? . . . I would like to offer a fresh set of eyes to the problems that face us."

Allen portrayed himself as a leader interested in fighting terrorism, promoting "Virginia values" and cutting taxes. He also made clear his reluctance to criticize President Bush, who polls show is declining in popularity in Virginia.

"I know it's easy to kick a friend when he's down. I am not going to kick a friend when he's down," Allen said.

Webb was an early and outspoken critic of Bush's decision to invade Iraq. "We made a strategic error by occupying a country in that part of the world," he said. "This is an issue where there was a lack of foresight."

Allen, a former governor who is considering a run for president in 2008, backed the decision to go to war. "9/11 changed everything," Allen said. "We were hit here in Virginia, at the Pentagon. They wanted to hit Washington, D.C. . . . The decision was, do you sit back and do nothing? . . . No, that would only embolden them. I thought we needed to go on offense."

Both candidates said they would like to see U.S. troops leave Iraq. But neither offered a timetable.

"I do not think we should tuck tail, run and surrender," Allen said.

Allen supports building permanent U.S. bases in Iraq that one day could be turned over to Iraqis. Webb criticized that idea, saying Iraq won't be secure until U.S. troops leave.

After the debate, Webb said he thinks that with the right leadership, U.S. troops could leave Iraq in about two years.

Webb, who served as Navy secretary under Reagan and only recently became a Democrat, said during the debate that Reagan had an administration that "really worked."

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