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Pugnacious, Brusque And a Media Darling

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By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 8, 2007

RICHMOND

What is it about James Webb?

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Virginia's junior senator is riding a wave of attention that is rare for any politician and virtually unheard-of for an officeholder during his first weeks in public service.

And it's not just the liberal bloggers, who recruited Webb and spent the fall helping to get him elected. Webb has become the darling of the MSM (mainstream media), which have featured him in numerous articles since the beginning of January.

Consider:

In the past few weeks, Webb has appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," CBS's "Face the Nation" and Fox's "Fox News Sunday." He has been quoted repeatedly in this newspaper, the New York Times and the New Yorker and has appeared on cable and network news broadcasts.

So what's going on?

The most obvious answer has to do with his selection by Democratic leaders to give the party's response to President Bush's State of the Union address last month. Webb's nine-minute speech was a boffo hit that sparked praise from conservatives and liberals alike.

Times columnist David Brooks, appearing on PBS's "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," called Webb's speech "intense," "eloquent" and "forceful." Other comments were equally positive, giving Virginia's newest senator a nice beginning to his six-year term.

But Webb's appeal has not faded in the weeks since he gave the address. There are two reasons: his style and the war in Iraq.

Webb is a prickly man. He's blunt and can be standoffish. And though he has a deep-throated laugh, he rarely offers it up to an audience. But most of all, he has a countenance that is almost always serious. It's as if the furrows in his brow never go away.

Hendrik Hertzberg, writing in the New Yorker, described him as "pugnacious of temperament." Chris Wallace, during the Fox interview, put it this way:


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