By Robert Barnes and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 20, 2006
President Bush added a stern stay-the-course message on the war in Iraq to his buoyant endorsement of Virginia Sen. George Allen (R) yesterday, and the region's high-profile Senate races received special attention not only from the current occupant of the White House but the former one as well.
While Bush raised about $500,000 for Allen (R) at an event in Richmond, former president Bill Clinton raced through Maryland and into Northern Virginia with a similar mission for Democrats in mind.
Clinton headlined a fundraiser for Maryland Senate candidate Benjamin L. Cardin, rallied die-hard Democrats at a park in Baltimore, raised money for gubernatorial candidate Martin O'Malley in Montgomery County and ended his evening across the river in McLean, where 375 Democrats ponied up about $500,000 for Democratic Senate candidate James Webb.
Clinton told the Baltimore crowd that his party now has a chance to represent not just progressives but also sensible conservatives. "There's something amazing going on here," Clinton said. "This is not a usual election."
In Richmond, Allen may have gotten a bit more support from the president than he wanted; after Bush departed, Allen seemed to distance himself from some of Bush's tough talk on Iraq.
As he and his wife, Susan, stood next to Bush in front of a huge U.S. flag, the president excoriated Democrats on national security and taxes. "They would have our country quit in Iraq before the job is done," Bush said. "That's why they are the party of cut and run. We will fight. We will stay. We will win in Iraq."
After the speech, the senator's aides brought Allen out to meet with reporters, where he softened the tone, saying that "America needs to adjust. Our battlefield commanders need to adjust and adapt to this evolving threat."
With polls showing that a growing number of Virginia voters are questioning whether the war was worth fighting, Allen has, in recent days, repeatedly sought to align himself with the commonwealth's senior senator, John W. Warner (R), who recently returned from Iraq and has been critical about the war's progress.
"John Warner and I discuss this . . . almost daily," Allen said, adding that a sudden withdrawal would "leave our country much less secure." Asked whether he agreed with Bush's "cut and run" statement, Allen said, "I'm not going to get in an argument here about the president's words versus my words."
He added: "The president has his ideas on Iraq, John Warner has his and I have mine."
In overwhelmingly Democratic Maryland, there was no disagreement with anything Clinton said. The crowd at a waterfront park in Baltimore, many wearing union jerseys, held camera cellphones, waved signs and cheered loudly at every applause line in the president's short speech.
Nostalgia for Clinton's years in office was the theme. Cardin, a congressman, introduced him in a plaintive voice, saying: "Mr. President, we miss you in the White House. It's been a long six years."
Clinton was full of his favorite old lines, saying that Republican attempts to accuse Democrats of not being up to the complicated battle against terrorism was "kind of a mangy old dog they're running out of the kennel one more time, and I don't think it'll hunt."
He said an anti-Washington fervor was something the political foot soldiers in Maryland should exploit.
"You'd be amazed who wants to talk to you," he said. "In the next three weeks, don't give up on anybody."
The entire statewide Democratic ticket shared the stage with Clinton, and Democrats stressed that ousting Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and replacing retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) with Cardin was a way to send a message to Bush.
"Ehrlich is on his way out. A Democratic House and Senate are on the way in. And Bush is on his way down," Cardin said.
From the Baltimore waterfront, Clinton and the Democratic candidates gathered again at the gated Potomac estate of real estate developer Morton Funger. Party faithful paid from $1,000 to $10,000 to mingle with Clinton and O'Malley over shrimp and mini-Reubens on the expansive veranda, some of the attendees said.
Clinton then headed to former senator Charles S. Robb's McLean estate to prove that there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies in politics.
Irony abounded. In 2000, when he was a Republican, former Navy secretary Webb endorsed Allen over Robb, the incumbent, saying that Robb had become "part of the problem." And at that November event, Webb took one of his many swipes at Clinton, saying his was "the most corrupt administration in modern memory."
Webb, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, has said his feelings were driven by Clinton's avoidance of service in the military, "but I'll say on 9/11 that wall came down for me. I lost my anger over Vietnam." Webb made similar comments during appearances with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who has had at least two fundraisers on Webb's behalf during the campaign.
"I think there have been some obvious questions I have received about issues, issues that divided this particular generation during and after the Vietnam War," said Webb. "And I want to say as emphatically as I can it is very important for all of us to step forward and lead this country in a way it deserves in the areas of foreign policy and economic policy."
Clinton indicated no hard feelings.
"If I only supported those who never criticized me, I would have no one to support. That is part of being president. . . . Those times divided us, and maybe we are finally putting them behind us as a country."
The Allen campaign was not so accepting of the new friendship.
"Bill Clinton and Chuck Robb better enjoy their time with their fellow tax-raiser Webb tonight. His hypocrisy is becoming legendary," Allen campaign manager Dick Wadhams said. "Webb has a clear pattern of changing who he is and what he stands for with the political winds. Webb could well be calling Bill Clinton 'corrupt' and Chuck Robb a 'problem' again soon."
Both candidates in Virginia had to balance their guests' fundraising abilities with the baggage they bring to the state.
A Washington Post poll last week found that Bush's job approval among likely voters in the November election is at 43 percent in Virginia, about the same as nationally. In addition, 54 percent believe that the war in Iraq was not worth fighting, and 46 percent believe that "strongly."
The numbers are much higher, and Bush's approval rating much lower, in Northern Virginia, where about 30 percent of the state's voters reside.
At a news conference yesterday morning, Allen appeared reluctant to embrace Bush even as he prepared to welcome him to the state. Allen dodged a question about whether he is proud of his support for Bush -- the Webb campaign repeatedly points out that it is north of 95 percent -- describing his own record without once mentioning the president in his answer.
"I'm proud of my record as governor of Virginia, and I'm proud of my record in the United States Senate," Allen said.
Asked about the purpose for the president's visit, Allen said: "It's a fundraiser. The president's coming in to raise money. We need to raise money because Hillary Rodham Clinton has piled in a million dollars via the Democratic Senate committee."
Staff writers Tim Craig, Ann E. Marimow and Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.