By Tim Craig and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Virginia U.S. Senate candidate James Webb yesterday delivered his strongest criticism of incumbent Sen. George Allen of the fall campaign, vigorously defending himself against Allen's charges that he wrote sex-laced passages in his fiction novels.
He called on voters to reject what he called the "smear tactics" of Allen and his campaign, who released excerpts Thursday from Webb's novels to the Drudge Report Web site and said the writings were lurid and inappropriate for a man seeking to serve in the Senate.
"The fish rots from the head down," Webb (D) said, referring to his belief that Allen (R) is responsible for his campaign staff's tactics and has now shown his true character. "Our government should no longer be in the hands of a group of unprincipled, small-minded, power-hungry character assassins."
Allen, speaking to reporters near Richmond yesterday after winning the endorsement of the National Rifle Association's political action committee, said Webb's career as an author of fictional works was part of his record.
"My record as a United States senator is an open book. My opponent has a record as well," Allen told reporters. "He, in his advertisements, points out that he's an author, that he's a writer of books. That's part of his record. These passages in his books are part of his open record. I'll let the people of Virginia be the judge as to whose record they are more comfortable with."
Allen's attack is the latest twist in a nasty, close campaign that is central to the Democrats' hopes of retaking the Senate.
Webb, joined at a rally in Fairfax County by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and former governor Mark R. Warner (D), said that the Allen campaign is belittling his life as a soldier and the service members who study his works. Kaine and Warner predicted that Allen's late campaign maneuver would backfire.
With some of the most forceful language he has used on the campaign trail, Webb said he was proud of his writing because it reflects the things he saw as a combat Marine in Vietnam and later as a journalist reporting on war-torn regions such as Beirut in the early 1980s.
The one-time boxer charged that Allen, the son of a former Washington Redskins head coach, has lived a life of privilege as a "a pampered public official." Allen, who did not serve in the military, was a college football player at the University of Virginia and spent one summer working on a ranch.
"When George Allen and his campaign take some small excerpts from my novels and not only criticizes them but uses them to question my ethics, my profession, my character, that is a line that should never be crossed," Webb said at Edgar Allen Poe Middle School in Annandale.
"I have lived in the real world, and I have reported the real world in my writings. I started working when I was 12 years old, and I fought in a brutal war. I saw its ugliness while George Allen was hanging out at a dude ranch," Webb said at a get-out-the-vote rally attended by about 300 people.
Allen said he spent time at a "real ranch" in Winnemucca, Nev., well after the end of the Vietnam War.
On Friday, Webb, a former secretary of the Navy, said Allen's sister, Jennifer, wrote a book that included descriptions of her brother's harsh physical treatment of her. Allen said yesterday, "Her book is a novelization. . . . I didn't write those passages in my sister's book."
Kaine drew comparisons to his campaign last year against Republican Jerry W. Kilgore, who aired a TV ad saying Kaine opposed the death penalty even for people like Adolf Hitler. "It's the same kind of nonsense," Kaine said. The Republicans "never know when to stop. They always go over the top, and it always backfires."
Warner noted that Republican Sen. John McCain, an Allen supporter, has praised Webb's novels. "All they do is smear, smear, smear," Warner said of the Allen campaign.
Allen said he stood by his release of Webb's racy book passages, saying that they are an indication of what Webb will do.
"Not just me, but others find those passages to be demeaning to women," Allen said. Allen's campaign also has released a 1979 magazine article by Webb questioning women in combat and saying a Naval Academy dormitory was "a horny woman's dream."
Yesterday, House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) called Webb's writings "disrespectful and demeaning." Del. Terrie Lynne Suit (R-Virginia Beach) said Webb's books were "not suitable for children and, frankly, many adults."
Webb has apologized for the magazine article, saying he used needlessly harsh language. But Webb made no apologies yesterday for his novels, among which are "Lost Soldiers," "Something to Die For," "A Sense of Honor" and "Fields of Fire."
Webb said yesterday that "Fields of Fire," a novel about the Vietnam War, has been on the Marine Corps reading list for 20 years and is the "most-taught piece of literature regarding the Vietnam War" on college campuses. He said that a "A Sense of Honor" is published by the U.S. Naval Institute, an independent organization that produces books about the military, and added that the book frequently is read by service members.
Interviews with voters yesterday suggested that Allen's attack may reinforce what people already think about Webb.
Donald L. Boswell, 55, director of law enforcement for the state Department of Motor Vehicles, said it was fair for Allen to criticize Webb's books. "He did freely choose to write," said Boswell, who was at the NRA event near Richmond. "I think holding him accountable for that is the same as holding Hollywood and the movie industry accountable for the movies they produce."
At Webb's rally in Annandale, Joan Brookshire said Allen was engaged in the "sleaziest campaigning. I now feel like knocking on every door in Virginia," said Brookshire, 75, of Alexandria. "Why would they use excerpts like this out of books that are classics?"
Also yesterday, Webb gave a Democratic response to President Bush's weekly radio address, saying he opposed the war before it began. A Democratic Congress, he predicted, would demand from Day One that Bush find "a real way forward in Iraq."
Allen traveled through the Shenandoah Valley before ending his day at the rally outside Richmond with the NRA.
Allen "is someone who Virginia gun owners and sportsmen know, like and trust," said Chuck Cunningham, the NRA's federal affairs director and chairman of Sportsmen for Allen. The NRA's political action committee has given an A rating to Webb and an A-plus rating to Allen.