By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) joined Virginia Democratic candidate James Webb at a rally last night in Alexandria, a sign that national party leaders are stepping up efforts to unseat incumbent George Allen (R-Va.) in this year's Senate race.
Obama, the only African American in the Senate and a rising star in his party, said a Webb victory is critical to Democrats' efforts to win the six seats they need to regain control of the Senate.
"I need some help in the Senate," Obama told several hundred people in Market Square. "Everywhere I go, I get the same sense from people. They want to see a change."
Obama -- who built his speech around the phrase "I've had enough" -- chided President Bush for his foreign and economic policies while praising Webb, a former Marine who until recently was a Republican.
"I've had enough of folks who act tough on TV. I want someone who really is tough when it comes to our foreign policy," Obama said.
With polls indicating a close race, the Virginia contest is quickly becoming a key part of the nationwide fight for control of Congress.
Last month, Bush, former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) traveled to Virginia to support Allen.
Former president Bill Clinton is expected to headline a Webb fundraiser next month.
Allen campaign officials said they aren't worried about Webb's high-profile support.
"We look forward to having . . . liberal Democrats campaign in Virginia for James H. Webb Jr.," said Dick Wadhams, Allen's campaign manager.
Obama's visit came as Webb tries to bolster his support among African Americans, a critical voting bloc for Democrats in statewide races.
Last week, Allen snagged the endorsement of state Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III, a black Democrat from Richmond. Lambert credited Allen for having a record of support for historically black colleges.
Allen mentioned Lambert's support while trying to deflect questions over his calling a Webb aide of Indian descent "macaca" last month. Macaca is a racial slur in some cultures.
Since Allen's remark, Webb has gained in polls, but he still faces hurdles, most notably his opponent's fundraising advantage.
Webb, who spoke yesterday of ending the war in Iraq and doing more to help the middle class, said he isn't fazed by Allen's money advantage.
"Political campaigns should not be an auction. George Allen can buy T-shirts, bumper stickers and signs. . . . But he can't buy this," Webb said of the crowd.
Democrats said Webb is gaining on Allen in the money race.
In the hours after his debate with Allen on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Webb raised more than $130,000 in donations to his Web site, campaign officials said.
Former governor Mark R. Warner (D) will host a high-dollar fundraiser for Webb in Alexandria tonight. On Sunday, best-selling authors John Grisham and Stephen King will headline a fundraiser in Charlottesville.
Webb has written several novels, a fact that Allen's campaign has used to portray the Democrat as out of touch. Allen's latest ad refers to Webb as a "fiction writer," and Wadhams almost always uses the phrase in front of Webb's name.
Yesterday, Obama told the crowd it should be proud of Webb's writing career.
"We have someone who has the sophistication to write some best-selling novels,'' Obama said. "We like our warriors to be scholars and intellectuals as well."