Allen, Webb Face Scrutiny of the NAACP

Former president Bill Clinton, left, attended several fundraisers for Democratic Senate candidate James Webb on Thursday.
Former president Bill Clinton, left, attended several fundraisers for Democratic Senate candidate James Webb on Thursday. (By Manuel Balce Ceneta -- Associated Press)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 21, 2006

HAMPTON, Va., Oct. 20 -- Virginia's candidates for the U.S. Senate made an election-year pilgrimage to the state's leading African American organization Friday, submitting separately to almost an hour of tough but respectful questions from members of the NAACP.

Sen. George Allen (R), who has battled accusations that he used racial epithets about blacks during and after college, fielded questions about racial profiling, Iraq, support for African nations, affirmative action, minimum wage and the draft.

The appearances of Allen and his Democratic challenger, James Webb, before the NAACP came against a backdrop of racial issues in the campaign. Allen has apologized for calling an Indian American Webb aide "macaca" and has had to answer accusations that he used the "n-word" when he was younger. Webb has had to explain his position on affirmative action.

The first-term senator did not get any questions about macaca or the racial epithet, and in a surprise moment, Allen accepted an off-the-cuff offer to join the NAACP as a lifetime member.

Allen said he is opposed to racial profiling but declined to support affirmative action, favoring "affirmative recruitment" instead. He earned nods from the crowd when he spoke about the need for increased support for historically black colleges and the importance of the Voting Rights Act.

He said that he would do a better job of keeping taxes low and that the United Nations should take the lead in dealing with the human rights issues in Darfur. On Iraq, he said, progress has been too slow.

"I've enjoyed the give-and-take here," he told the crowd of about 200. "Do we agree on every issue? No. Am I perfect? No. I respectfully ask for your support and your consideration. I look forward to joining hands with you all."

Moments later, he joined the group's president and a phalanx of television cameras to fill out the membership application and write a personal check for $750 to become the group's latest lifetime member.

Webb, who followed Allen for his hour of questions, sparked immediate, raucous applause by opening his talk with a promise: "I'm going to bite the bear before the bear bites me," he said. "I'm announcing I'm going to sign up for a lifetime membership in the NAACP."

Webb received a warmer reception than Allen, despite concern in the black community about his position on affirmative action.

During the Democratic primary, Webb was pressed to explain his earlier criticism of the program, which he once called "state-sponsored racism." He has since said that he believes affirmative action should be reserved for blacks and not expanded to include other ethnic minorities.

"My firm belief is the affirmative-action program is an African American program," he told the audience at the Hampton Holiday Inn.

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