Vote on Senate Nears After Tumultuous Campaign

A series of missteps by George Allen tightened the Senate race in Virginia.
A series of missteps by George Allen tightened the Senate race in Virginia. (By Bob Brown -- Associated Press)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 2, 2006


Virginians will go to the polls Tuesday to choose between incumbent Sen. George Allen (R) and his Democratic challenger, James Webb, in a tight race with national implications that was not supposed to be close.

After months of attacking each other's personal character, Webb and Allen headed into the final week in a virtual tie, with some surveys showing the Republican a few points ahead and others showing the Democrat leading slightly.

Allen's long history in the state as a legislator, member of the U.S. House, governor and now senator made him the clear front-runner against a political newcomer.

In fact, in the first half of the year, while Webb was battling Democrat Harris Miller for the nomination, Allen spent much of his time out of Virginia, giving speeches in states that hold early presidential primaries. His name was circulated at the time by several news organizations as a leading candidate for the Republican nomination in 2008.

That changed on Aug. 11, when Allen was caught on camera calling one of Webb's volunteers, a Fairfax County native of Indian descent, "macaca." The video became an Internet sensation and plunged Allen into several weeks of controversy.

Later, Allen also confronted questions about his Jewish heritage and was forced to answer charges from several former college friends about his use of racial epithets. He has denied that the "n-word" is part of his vocabulary.

Webb, too, ran into personal controversy, most recently with accusations that novels he wrote contained inappropriate passages of sex and degradation of women.

Earlier in the campaign, several women who attended the U.S. Naval Academy in the early 1980s came forward at an Allen news conference to say that an article Webb wrote for Washingtonian magazine in 1979 had intensified an atmosphere of hatred and harassment toward women.

Webb, a former Navy secretary and decorated Marine, apologized for the most strident language in the piece -- including calling one of the academy dorms "a horny woman's dream" -- but declined to apologize for the rest of the article, saying he was participating in an important debate at the time. He said he fully supports the current roles of women in the military.

Allen's campaign used the Naval Academy women in a hard-hitting television campaign commercial. Webb responded with one of his own, featuring military women who said the Democrat has done good things for military women.

Taken together, the charges and countercharges dominated news coverage for two months, forcing out discussion of many issues.

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