Allen Gets Help For Vets' Votes

By Tim Craig and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 17, 2006

NORFOLK, Aug. 16 -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) came to the heart of Virginia's military community Wednesday to boost the fortunes of Sen. George Allen (R), hours after Democratic candidate James Webb issued his harshest critique to date of how Republicans have handled Iraq and the fight against terrorism.

The dueling events highlighted the central themes of Virginia's Senate race -- Iraq, terror and foreign policy -- while focusing on the state's large contingent of veterans, who make up about 10 percent of eligible voters.

McCain's endorsement at a rally in Norfolk was designed to showcase Allen's support for the military and veterans. But the event was partly overshadowed by continuing criticism over comments Allen made last week to a Webb volunteer of Indian descent that many have said were demeaning and insensitive.

Webb commented about the controversy for the first time Wednesday, saying that he thinks Allen "knew what he was saying" when he addressed S.R. Sidarth, a 20-year-old from Fairfax County, as "Macaca" at a GOP rally Friday. The term, which refers to a genus of monkey, is an ethnic slur in some cultures.

Allen has apologized and has said "Macaca" was a play on "Mohawk," a nickname given to Sidarth by the Allen campaign because of his hairstyle. Before traveling to Norfolk, Allen met for more than an hour at the Tysons Corner Ritz-Carlton with a group of Indian American business leaders, who expressed dismay over his statements.

At the rally, Allen focused on McCain's visit.

"We're in the midst of a war. This is not a debate. This is not a political game we are in," Allen said. "We don't need plans for retreat or surrender. "

In his speech to the Arlington Kiwanis Club, Webb accused Allen and President Bush of committing a "double strategic blunder" in Iraq -- diverting attention from the war on terror and tying down the military in what he called a costly occupation.

"I'm very, very concerned about the state of national security posture. It is in total disarray," Webb told an audience of about 40.

Webb said Bush's handling of Iraq has strengthened Iran and China, escalated tensions between Israel and Hezbollah and emboldened North Korea.

"We need to end the occupation of Iraq so we can repair our relationships around the world," said Webb, later adding, "What this government desperately needs is people of reason and intellect."

Webb, a former Marine who served as secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, stopped short of calling for an immediate U.S. pullout from Iraq. But he said the United States should shift troops from Iraq to other Arab countries to signal that they are not an occupying force. In an attempt to isolate Iran, Webb called for direct talks with Syria.

Webb also accused Bush of "slash-and-burn rhetoric" for repeatedly contending that war critics want to "cut and run."

In response to a question from the audience, Webb said he is frustrated that leaders of his own party have not come out more strongly against the war.

Dick Wadhams, Allen's campaign manager, said Webb is "advocating a policy of surrender."

Six years ago, McCain, Allen and Webb were on the same side. McCain and Webb, both decorated Vietnam veterans, are longtime friends, and Webb endorsed Allen in his Senate race.

At the event Wednesday at the Norfolk Marriott, McCain told about 100 veterans that Allen "works hard. He believes in what he does. He's dedicated." He praised Allen's "leadership, his vision and his courage."

From the moment Democrats nominated Webb, who was among the earliest critics of the war in Iraq, the Senate race was destined to focus on the military.

Demographics also demanded it. Virginia is home to the Pentagon and one of the world's largest military bases, in Hampton Roads. Its 750,000 veterans are among the largest concentration of former military officers and enlisted personnel in the country.

Allen has long courted those voters and this year formed Veterans for Allen, led by Paul Galanti, a Vietnam veteran who was part of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign that criticized Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.

Webb has also sought to appeal to veterans, in part by enlisting the support of such military friends as retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, the former NATO commander and Democratic presidential candidate.

"John McCain, George Allen and all the rest of the Republicans have let down the veterans in this country," Clark said Wednesday.

Craig reported from Arlington.

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