Iraq Overshadows Remarks As Voters Question Allen

By Robert Barnes and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) sought to put a week's worth of controversy behind him yesterday as his "2006 Listening Tour" rolled into Northern Virginia, while Democrat James Webb reached out to African American leaders who have yet to embrace his candidacy.

Allen's schedule took him inside the Capital Beltway only once -- to a private meeting with Verizon executives and employees in Arlington -- as he met with Rotarians in Manassas, Chamber of Commerce members in Fairfax and senior citizens in Springfield.

The senator has endured a week of criticism for remarks made in southwest Virginia in which he referred to a Webb volunteer of Indian descent as "Macaca" and welcomed him to "the real world of Virginia." Allen said it was a made-up name for the Webb staff member who was videotaping him and later apologized. His critics said the word was a slur meaning monkey and interpreted Allen's words and demeanor to be discriminatory and exclusionary.

There were no questions from the public about his remarks yesterday; voters preferred to talk about energy independence, health care and Iraq.

One questioner at the Rotary event said he was concerned about "what's on everybody's mind," which he said was the war in Iraq. "It seems to me we're going nowhere, we're treading water," the man said. "Is there something different we can do to turn this thing around that you might be aware of?"

Allen is one of President Bush's staunchest allies on staying the course in the war and has dismissed Webb's criticism of the war as defeatist. But he was more conciliatory with the questioner. "I won't gild this; it's very tough," he said, adding he believed that "the northern part of Iraq is doing very well" and that the Iraqi military "is standing up stronger and stronger."

But he added: "It's very difficult. We're dealing with a fledgling country; it's like an infant in understanding how to run a country. . . . This is ultimately going to be decided by the backbone and the hands and the minds of the Iraqi people."

In Richmond, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) hosted a closed-door reception at the governor's mansion between Webb and members of the African American community, a vital Democratic constituency.

In the Democratic primary, Webb's opponent, Harris Miller, did better than Webb in areas of the state that have a high concentration of black voters. Some black leaders had expressed reservations about Webb, a former Republican who gave conflicting statements about his support for affirmative action. At a debate last month, Webb said he supports affirmative action for African Americans but not for other minority groups.

Several African American leaders who supported Miller during the primary said Allen's remarks about Webb's campaign worker gave Webb an opportunity to rally black voters. But the leaders said that Webb, at least so far, has been too timid in his outreach.

"I don't see the enthusiasm for either one of them in the black community," said state Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III (D-Richmond), a former Miller supporter who planned to attend Kaine's meeting, though he said he was still waiting for Webb to call him to mend fences.

Kristian Denny Todd, a Webb spokeswoman, said that outreach is a "big priority" for the campaign but that "it's a matter of finding the time."

Julian Greene Jr., an African American community activist from Petersburg who met with Webb last night, said he thinks African Americans will be firmly on board once they get a chance to know Webb. As for Allen's remarks, Greene said the senator "can't distance himself from that, and it's going to have a devastating impact because it goes to the core and heart of what we think he believes."

As Allen tried to put last week's events behind him, his campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, blamed the media in a memo titled "Notes on a tough week."

"It is very clear that the news media created what they call a 'feeding frenzy,' with the Washington Post alone doing major stories on the same issue for 5 consecutive days," Wadhams wrote. "Never in modern times has a statewide officeholder and candidate been so vilified."

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