With Allen's Help, Webb's Fundraising Soars

By Michael D. Shear and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 5, 2006

RICHMOND, Oct. 4 -- The big question confronting James Webb when he became Virginia's Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in June was this: Could he raise enough money to compete with Republican Sen. George Allen's well-funded campaign?

The answer came Wednesday, when Webb announced that he had raised $3.5 million between July and September, positioning him to be one of the most aggressive Democratic challengers in the country. As of Sept. 30, Webb campaign officials said they had $2.7 million in the bank for the final weeks of the race.

Allen officials refused to provide their fundraising totals Wednesday, saying they will release the figures Oct. 15, when federal reports must be made public. But nonpartisan political strategists said Webb's financial success makes him competitive regardless of how much money Allen has raised.

"It is shocking someone would be able to get so much so fast and be the contender that no one thought he would be," said Morgan E. Felchner, editor of Campaigns and Elections Magazine. "It shows he has been able to gain some traction in Virginia. Having raised $3.5 million, that is not chump change, that is something the candidate had to work hard to do."

Webb officials said they raised about $1 million in online contributions, much of which started flowing in after a debate on NBC's "Meet the Press" two weeks ago. Aides said Webb benefited from going head-to-head with Allen on a national stage.

Political observers said much of Webb's money likely came as a result of scandals that have rocked Allen's campaign, giving Democratic supporters fresh hope for victory in Virginia. Allen uttered the word "macaca" at a Webb volunteer on Aug. 11, and since then polls have shown the evaporation of his double-digit lead.

"George Allen has become a national poster boy for Democratic efforts to take over the Senate, and that means Webb was able to raise money from near and far," said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

Webb's campaign has also become more aggressive, holding fundraisers with such big-name Democrats as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former North Carolina senator John Edwards, as well as with writers Stephen King and John Grisham. On Oct. 19, former president Bill Clinton will headline a fundraiser for Webb at the home of former Virginia governor and senator Charles S. Robb (D).

"People call me up all the time and say this is all Allen," said Webb spokeswoman Kristian Denny Todd. "That's not exactly wrong, but it's unfair. We don't get this kind of fundraising without Jim offering some kind of alternative."

The money Webb and Allen raise will pay for staff, polling and travel. But the majority of it will be used for advertisements. Allen has spent about $2 million in the past several weeks on television ads that say Webb has been insensitive to women. Webb spent about $600,000 this week for his own ad responding to the charges.

The two candidates will face each other directly for a final time Monday night, in a debate that will be televised live in many parts of the state.

Webb started the campaign against Allen virtually broke. At the end of June, the former Republican had just over $400,000 in the bank, while Allen -- considered a possible candidate for president in 2008 -- had amassed $6.6 million for his reelection effort this year.

Dick Wadhams, Allen's campaign manager, said the campaign will release its fundraising totals next week and refused to answer questions about how much it had in the bank. Vice President Cheney is scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for Allen on Thursday.

"I know we got the money to go all the way through and do what we need to do," Wadhams said. "That is all I care about."

Wadhams, who in the summer was fond of calling Webb's campaign "pathetic" and a "joke," said he isn't surprised by the Democrat's surge in fundraising.

"Liberal special-interest groups are rallying around the Hollywood movie producer and fiction novelist," Wadhams said, referring to Webb, who has written several fiction books and helped produce a few movies.

Webb officials said they believe that their fundraising success will persuade national Democrats to begin spending money in Virginia. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, helped Webb win the primary and later promised to support him against Allen -- if Webb could prove his mettle as a candidate.

But some Democrats grumbled Wednesday that Schumer is waiting too long to start spending on Webb's behalf.

"This is one of the best pickup opportunities in the country. He's surpassed all fundraising expectations, and Allen keeps tripping over his own tongue," said one Democratic strategist who declined to be named so he would not be seen as critical of his party leadership. "It's now or never. There's no more time to waste."

Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said simply, "Stay tuned."

Rothenberg said an infusion of money from the committee would further enhance Webb's chances. But even without money from the national party, Rothenberg said, Webb may already have what he needs to battle Allen on the airwaves, particularly when voter discontent with President Bush and GOP leaders in Congress is factored in.

"Does he have enough? I am tempted to say yes, he has enough to give him the opportunity to win," Rothenberg said. "Webb doesn't have to fund an eight-month effort. We are talking about four weeks."

Rothenberg said the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee faces "difficult decisions" on where to invest because Republicans are pouring cash into other competitive states.

"To some extent, they are making their decisions based upon what decisions the other guys make," he said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company