Allen Flap May Give A Boost To Webb

By Tim Craig and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 19, 2006

RICHMOND -- The nationwide fallout from controversial remarks Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) made last week has given Democrats new hope in a race many thought would be difficult to win in the historically conservative state.

Before Allen insulted a native Fairfax County man of Indian descent, many Democratic officials were privately doubtful that James Webb could mount an aggressive challenge to the former governor and possible 2008 presidential candidate.

But Allen's remarks to S.R. Sidarth, 20 -- which included saying "welcome to America" -- are generating new support for the Webb campaign and energizing Democratic activists.

"Before this week, I thought it would be a very tough race for Jim Webb," said Martin Tillett, a self-described Democrat who is vice president of the Spring Bank Community Association in Fairfax County. He had already opposed Allen for his conservative positions. "This week has just added fuel on the fire as far as I am concerned," he said.

Even Northern Virginia Republicans who support Allen say they are a bit worried.

Rob Jackson, 55, a lawyer from McLean, said he still plans to vote for Allen, despite what he called "a stupid remark that a senator shouldn't have said." Jackson added that the Senate race is probably closer now. "It certainly hurt George Allen," he said. "It was a dumb thing to do."

Political analysts also said they sense a more competitive race.

"If the race wasn't on Democrats' radar screen before, it is now," said Charlie Cook, editor of the Cook Political Report.

A week of national headlines -- none good for Allen -- has the potential to change the Virginia campaign from a Democratic long shot to one that could help decide which party controls the U.S. Senate next year, political analysts said. But only if Webb, who has struggled in his first run for office, can translate the temporary boost into lasting momentum.

Democratic activists across the state have complained for weeks that Webb hasn't been visible enough, was slow in hiring staff and had limited knowledge about many issues. In a debate last month, Allen forced Webb to admit he did not know about the future shipping terminal at Craney Island in Portsmouth.

Webb, an Iraq war opponent who is a former Marine and was secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, still faces a relentless campaigner who last month had 10 times as much to spend on his reelection bid.

Republicans say he can't win, regardless of Allen's recent remarks.

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