Those Who Know War Are Targeted

By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 2, 2006

NORFOLK -- Just after 5 p.m., Homer A. Ewert walked into the canteen of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4809, and the dozen or so people gathered there sipping on dollar drafts noticed his arrival immediately.

"Homer!" a couple of guys yelled as if they had not seen Ewert in years. Ewert, 83, his U.S. Navy-Retired baseball cap cocked ever so slightly to one side, smiled broadly as his brother veterans made room for him at the bar.

Post 4809 is in a prime spot just off Interstate 264 at the Military Highway exit. It is a large, one-story, cinder-block building with the bar, a meeting hall and a playground for the children and grandchildren of the members.

In the neck-and-neck U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent George Allen and Democrat James Webb, reeling in the veterans' vote could be key. And in Virginia, that means targeting the Hampton Roads area, home of the world's largest naval station and one of the country's largest concentrations of veterans.

On Monday, Allen campaigned in Virginia Beach at another VFW post with Sen. John W. Warner (R), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and retired Navy Cmdr. Paul Galanti, who heads Allen's veterans effort. Allen recently was endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars political action committee, which backed Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) over Allen in 2000. Allen won the Hampton Roads area in that election.

Like Robb, Webb also is a decorated Marine who served in the Vietnam War. Yesterday, a coalition of veterans groups held a news conference at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington to announce their support for Webb. The groups were led by the Veterans' Alliance for Security and Democracy, a political action committee that contributes money to candidates. Separately, Veterans for Webb stumped for Webb yesterday and today in six cities and towns across the state.

Veterans in Virginia frequently gather in places such as Post 4809 to talk about their day, how they did in the last Mega Millions drawing (Ewert split $2 with six partners) and about the old days. On a recent night, they agreed to break their rule of keeping talk about politics to a minimum to discuss their views of Allen and Webb, a former Navy secretary.

A recent Mason-Dixon poll showed that likely voters in the 2nd Congressional District, which consists of Virginia Beach, the Eastern Shore and about half of Norfolk and Hampton, favor Allen by 45 percent to 44 percent, which means the race is a virtual tie and could be decided by voters such as Ewert who have not made up their minds.

Ewert, a Navy photographer who shot some of the fiercest battles in the South Pacific during World War II, said the fact that Webb is a Vietnam veteran would hold no sway with him ("Vietnam wasn't a real war like World War II"). And what about Allen? "He's had his problems."

Many of the veterans said they were fed up with the conduct of both campaigns.

"The thing that really upsets me is how negative a campaign both Senate candidates are running," said Steve Lasseter, the post's senior vice commander. "It has not been effective. You don't know where they stand on the issues. All the commercials just say, 'He does this, he did that, the other one does this' -- that's not very good."

Lasseter, 62, who served one tour of duty in Vietnam with the U.S. Navy, said he will vote for Allen. "I like George Allen. I always have. I don't like negative campaigning and they've both done it, but more than anything, it was started by Webb -- and I never liked him when he was secretary of the Navy, either."

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