Webb's Iraq Message Ousts Sen. Allen
Thursday, November 9, 2006; 10:25 PM
RICHMOND, Va. -- Democrat Jim Webb entered the race for Republican Sen. George Allen's seat wearing the scuffed, buff-colored combat boots of a son who is fighting in Iraq.
On Thursday, the first phase of his mission accomplished, he took off those boots and held them over his head as supporters cheered.
The victory put Democrats in control of Congress, giving them majorities in both the House and Senate for the first time since 1994.
A disaffected former Republican, decorated Vietnam War hero and a Reagan administration Navy secretary, Webb had credibility when he balked at President Bush's plan to invade Iraq.
He predicted that overrunning Iraq would destabilize the Middle East, inflame Muslim anger toward the United States and mire U.S. troops in the bloody occupation of a hostile land.
"What you see here is a split between the theorists who have never been on a battlefield or never worn the uniform" and those who have, Webb said in a televised debate in September.
The war, along with economic disparities and social injustices Webb believes are eroding the middle class, made him an unlikely Democratic convert with the perfect portfolio to sweep the GOP out from power.
Webb was a best-selling author and military historian making his first bid for any elected office. He is known for being headstrong and clashing even with his own professional advisers.
Webb, stocky and square-jawed with steel-gray eyes, was an awkward fit for traditional Democrats. Campaign small talk did not come easily for him, and he was a reluctant fundraiser.
He was a tough sell among minorities and women because of long-ago writings against affirmative action. In a 1979 magazine article titled "Women Can't Fight," Webb lamented the admission of women to his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy, and described a formerly all-male dorm there as "a horny woman's dream."
In Allen, he faced a giant of Virginia politics whose re-election was considered a warmup for a 2008 presidential bid. By midsummer, Allen led Webb by 16 percentage points in statewide polls and had 16 times more campaign cash.
Allen's own missteps raised questions about his character and racial sensitivity and gave Webb his opportunity. Some Democrats, many of them influential, groused privately that Webb failed to exploit Allen's woes.
Others were dismayed that he refused to campaign on his resume as a decorated Marine rifle platoon commander in the Vietnam War's bloodiest battles or the fact that his son, Jimmy, 24, is a Marine fighting now in Iraq.
"I was not going to trade anything I believe to get a vote or a dollar, and I walk into the U.S. Senate with the independence to represent the people who have no voice in the corridors of power," Webb told jubilant supporters at Thursday's rally.
Virginia Democrats had to get used to Webb on Webb's terms, said Larry Framme, a Richmond attorney and former state Democratic chairman.
"He recognized a few assets he had and those he didn't, and he used the assets he had," Framme said. "Jim Webb was being Jim Webb. He waited for the world to turn in his direction, and it did."