Allen, Webb in Slashing, Wide-Ranging Debate

By Michael D. Shear and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 10, 2006

RICHMOND, Oct. 9 -- Virginia Sen. George Allen and former Navy secretary James Webb clashed over issues and character in a fast-paced and contentious series of exchanges during the last of four scheduled debates Monday night.

The 60-minute debate, held in Richmond and broadcast live on 19 public and commercial television stations statewide, gave Webb and Allen a chance to highlight the issues they hope will dominate the four weeks before the Nov. 7 election.

For Allen, the Republican, those issues are taxes, same-sex marriage and a dislike of liberals. Webb, running as a Democrat, stressed the Iraq war and economic fairness as he appealed for support from independents and Republicans.

In a campaign marked by personal attacks on character, real issues emerged Monday night. In rapid-fire succession, the candidates sparred over energy independence, immigration, the federal deficit, the Capitol Hill page scandal, the minimum wage and secret spying by the government.

"My opponent doesn't stand with John Warner and me in keeping taxes low," Allen said in his opening statement, referring to Virginia's senior senator, also a Republican. "He stands with Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and the big-government Democrats who want to raise taxes."

Allen was hoping to align Webb with Clinton, of New York, and Kerry, of Massachusetts, two senators widely seen as too liberal for Virginia voters.

When it was his turn, Webb assailed the increase in corporate profits at the expense of wages. And Webb, a decorated veteran whose son is serving as a Marine in Iraq, lashed out, indirectly, at Allen's lack of foreign policy or wartime experience.

"Very few of these leaders are willing to invest their own loved ones in this effort," he said of the war in Iraq. "America needs leaders who understand these divisions and want to repair them, leaders whose experience in foreign policy is formed by experience, not by sound bites."

Allen, who is a former governor and congressman, appeared more comfortable with the fast-paced forum, which gave each man a minute or 30 seconds to answer complex questions. He stuck to his talking points and often looked directly at viewers for impact. Webb, by contrast, seemed to look down at his notes and wasn't as smooth, but he appeared aggressive and not intimidated.

Like the broader campaign being waged on both sides, the exchange provided a nasty, bickering forum for questions about personal honesty and character. Allen was pressed on questions about his racial sensitivity. Webb was confronted with allegations that he demeaned females by opposing women in combat in an article he wrote 27 years ago.

The Virginia Senate campaign has become a focal point in the national battle for control of Congress. On Tuesday, the national Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is expected to begin a nine-day, $1 million advertising blitz on behalf of Webb, according to sources in both campaigns. The committee's GOP counterpart already has paid to mail glossy campaign literature for Allen to hundreds of thousands of voters.

Webb, Navy secretary during Ronald Reagan's presidency, has closed a 16-point Allen advantage to a statistical dead heat. That's not how it was supposed to be. Allen started his reelection campaign this year brimming with confidence and with one eye on Iowa and New Hampshire, as he plotted a possible bid for the presidency in 2008.

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