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Robert Barnes
Metro Political Editor
Wednesday, October 18, 2006; 1:00 PM

Washington Post Metro Political Editor Robert Barnes was online Wednesday, October 18, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the most recent trends in the Virginia Senate Race, as well as, the first live debate between the Maryland Gubernatorial frontrunner's. He will also address any other mentionables from the latest headlines .

Barnes became metropolitan editor in 1997. Prior to becoming the metropolitan editor, he was political editor for five years. He has also covered the Maryland General Assembly and the first Schaefer administration.

Transcript Follows:

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Robert Barnes: Hello everyone and welcome to T-minus 20 days. I'd love to hear what folks thought of the Ehrlich-O'Malley debates--be objective, now--even though a Saturday night on public television and Monday night before prime time is not exactly the best way to reach vox populi. Who thinks the battlin' duo of Don King and Mike Tyson a good idea for Michael Steele? And the Big Boys are on the way--Bill Clinton to Maryland and McLean tomorrow and President Bush holding a fundraiser tomorrow night for George Allen in Richmond. Let's get started.

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Arlington: An article today by Michael D. Shear and Tim Craig ("Webb Is Reluctant To Advertise Duty,") quoted "an hour-long interview" of Virginia Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb "with Washington Post reporters and editors."

Will that interview be appearing in the Post?

I hope so. Between the packaged ads and the rigid debates, we need all the solid information we can get about political candidates in order to make truly informed choices on Election Day.

washingtonpost.com: Audio Excerpt From Post Interview

Robert Barnes: Here's a way to listen to part of it. Don't know if editors have plans to publish the whole thing. In case you're wondering, Allen has not committed to sitting down for an interview with Post editors and reporters.

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Atlanta: Given the closeness of the race, do you expect that the 2 percent current polling for the Green candidate will diminish by election day, and if so, which candidate benefits?

Robert Barnes: I think it's rare that third-party candidates have a direct impact on the outcome of a race like that, but we all know that it happens once and a while. Usually, the challenger has the best chance to get that support rather than the incumbent.

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Richard McLean, VA: How does the Webb-Senate poll define "Northern Virginia" -- what counties and cities are included?

Robert Barnes: The Post poll defines the Northern Virginia region as Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun, Prince William, Stafford, the cities of Falls Church, Fairfax, Manassas and Manassas Park. It divides the rest of the state as into these regions: Shenandoah/Piedmont, Roanoke/SW Virginia, Hampton Roads, Lynchburg/Southside and metropolitan Richmond.

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Richmond: Your latest article cites a poll by the Washington Post finding that "nearly one in five polled say they feel Allen was being intentionally racist when he called an Indian American supporter of Webb "macaca." An additional 44 percent view the comment as racist but say they don't think Allen intended it that way."

Question: Did the poll ask whether people felt that Webb's phrase a "horny woman's dream" was intentionally sexist and demeaning towards women? If not, why not?

Robert Barnes: Here's the wording of the questions we asked:

As you may know, Allen's campaign has criticized the language Webb used in a 1979 article denouncing the idea of women serving in combat roles and at the U.S. Naval Academy. In thinking about your vote for U.S. Senate this year, will Webb's past comments about women in the military be extremely important, very important, somewhat important, or not at all important? (17 percent said important)

As you may have seen or heard, Allen's comments to an Indian-American Webb supporter at a campaign rally have been interpreted by some as racially insensitive, a claim Allen denies. In thinking about your vote for U.S. Senate this year, will Allen's comments at that campaign event be extremely important, very important, somewhat important, or not at all important? (25 percent said important)

And:

Based on what you know, do you think George Allen's comments to the Indian-American Webb supporter were intentionally racist, racist but not intentionally so, or not racist at all? (18 percent intentionally racist, 44 percent racist but not intentionally, 33 percent not racist at all)

You'll notice that neither "macaca" nor "horny woman's dream" are in the questions.

We asked the additional question on Allen because it was the event that altered the campaign. The wording was based on a poll question asked at the height of the controversy over former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's praise of Sen. Strom Thurmond.

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Piling on or piling in, Vienna, VA: This morning Post readers who are Webb fans get a sympathetic editorial, a sympathetic Style piece AND the expected editorial endorsing Webb (GOP statewide and national candidates have about as much chance at a Post endorsement as the Nationals have of winning the World Series).

Yes, we all know that editorial and news departments are separate. But these two very sympathetic stories, joined with the recent Style piece with THREE quotes from Webb's political consultant criticizing George Allen's enthusiasm for cowboy boots, just add to the overwhelming perception that the Post's coverage is hardly more than cheerleading.

Anti-war partisans often complain that President Bush won't admit to mistakes. I wonder when the Post will admit to the equally obvious: its coverage is biased for Webb. Even your own ombudsman admitted the macaca coverage looked like "piling on."

washingtonpost.com: Don't Call Him Redneck

Editorial Endorsement

Robert Barnes: You make a good point about too much Webb in the paper today; it looked ridiculous.

But I can only tell you what's the truth: it's a big place where people often don't know what other people are doing.

With the editorial department, that's a good thing. I don't know who they are going to endorse or when they are going to do it. I've got total deniability!

I disagree that the new story was sympathetic. It was a pretty straight-forward account of what he said during the meeting, and it had to run today because it happened yesterday.

I liked Libby Copeland's piece in style very much and it gave me a better feel for Webb as a writer. But I wish it had run on a different day for just the reasons you state.

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D.C.: I hope you have more coverage of the school board election. I know that the paper has skipped covering two debates in Ward 5 for the district 3 representative. Education is the number one issue in the city and residents need more information.

washingtonpost.com: Candidates Weigh In on System's Future

Robert Barnes: I know that the city desk has lots of plans for school board coverage. We won't cover every debate, but there will be full coverage of the candidates and issues.

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Bethesda, Md.: As a Maryland Republican, who would like to see more diversity in the GOP, I can no longer support Michael Steele when he's out seeking the support and standing with convicted manslaughters (Don King) and rapists (Mike Tyson). This shows an incredible amount of bad judgment and poor leadership on Mr. Steele's part. Beyond poorly playing the race card, what in the world is Mr. Steele thinking?

Robert Barnes: Ok, so the Don King endorsement didn't play well in Bethesda. How bout Frederick?

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Frederick: Do people ever note that Don King has served time for manslaughter? Why is he allowed into civilized society? Why are Republicans willing to accept his support?

Robert Barnes: Ok, not so well in Frederick either. It's not just Republicans who are willing to overlook past transgressions when seeking endorsements.

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Bethesda: Is Webb married, and is his wife active in his political career?

Robert Barnes: Hong Le Webb is Webb's third wife; they were married in 2005. She's a corporate lawyer born in Vietnam and while she attends many of his political events, she doesn't campaign on her own. She's also due to deliver the couple's first child in December.

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Takoma Park: Mr. Barnes, please tell me what is going on with Maryland Democrats. First, the Oreo, Michael Steele reference. Then they get caught looking at his personal financial records. Then State Sen. Mike Miller calls Mr. Steele an "Uncle Tom." And now, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, referencing Mr. Steele as "slavishly". They make themselves, and the party look terrible. If Maryland was not two-thirds Democrat, I would have no doubt that the campaign they have run would lose them the election. As much as Sen. George Allen in Virginia has seemed to have shown his true colors, Democrats in Maryland have seemed to have done the same thing.

Many thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Hoyer Remark 'Racist,' GOP's Steele Charges

Robert Barnes: Thanks for your comments, although I must add that you've rolled about four years of events into one question. There is no doubt that Steele charging racial insensitivity makes folks think of him as a different kind of Republican, and in some cases the Democrats have helped him along. did others think Hoyer's comments that Steele had made "a career of slavishly supporting the Republican Party" had racial overtones? I've heard other Democrats accuse other Republican of slavishly following President Bush's lead. But maybe this is different?

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Vienna: Mr. Barnes,

How much credit does the Post deserve for making the Allen/Webb race so close?

I suspect that the Post's aggressive - and sometimes over the top - coverage of Allen's gaffes has led to an erosion in his poll numbers.

As a Post insider who dictates the political coverage, do you agree with the premise that your coverage can alter a race?

Robert Barnes: Certainly I think coverage can alter a campaign's direction. The difference here, I think, is that Sen. Allen himself has said this problem was of his own making. Perhaps the Post covered it too much in the eyes of some. But, as has been noted by many, the macaca coverage resonated because it raised questions about Allen already in the back of some voters' minds. The Post has been tough on Rep. James Moran in the past, and published an investigative piece on Rep. Tom Davis earlier this year, and neither of them appear to be in especially tight races.

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Arlington: The poll results available on WashingtonPost.com do not include demographic data of those sampled (male/female, registered party, etc...). When will you make this data available?

Polls in previous states with gay marriage amendments typically underestimated support for the amendments, perhaps because churchgoing, conservative voters tend not to cooperate with pollsters. How did you sample for likely voters from groups who may not have been motivated to vote before?

Robert Barnes: I'm not sure what you're looking for, but the poll itself is available on the web site. As you know, voters don't register by party in Virginia. Our poll showed about the same numbers of people who identified themselves as conservative, moderate or liberal as exit polls showed in recent elections. What was different this time was a small percentage fewer identified themselves as Republicans, and said they were independents instead.

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D.C.: Good afternoon, Mr Barnes,

Can you give me an example of the last time the Washington Post endorsed a candidate who was Republican, running for Maryland or Virginia office (i.e. Governor of Senator). I can not seem to remember one, which is scary.

Many thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Our choice in Northern Virginia's 10th District

Robert Barnes: I'm afraid Fred Hiatt, editor of the editorial page, would be better to answer that. I do know that the board just endorsed Frank Wolfe in what might be his surprisingly tough battle for reelection.

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Glen Burnie, MD: You asked for it, so here's my take on the debate (which, I did in fact watch):

What bothered me most about the debate was at one point, Ehrlich basically tells O'Malley that Baltimore doesn't exist without state aid. His exact quote was "I pay for you. Without us, you are done."

Well, that's just dumb. Of course, it's true that without state assistance Baltimore would be done. But so would Montgomery County, Prince George's County, and Anne Arundel. How many counties are there in Maryland? (Answer: 24) And guess what - the state funnels funds to all of them. That's how government works. For heaven's sake, Mr. Governor, Senator Mikulski, who was off-stage at the debate, (I know this because O'Malley mentioned she was there) should have pointed out after the debate that our state government would be "done" if it wasn't for her and the federal government. That's just how the system works - federal money to the states, state money to the counties, and so on and so forth, from the biggest pot down the line to the smallest.

O'Malley rightly pointed out, however: "I just wanted to remind you that the citizens of the City of Baltimore are also citizens of our state and that we're all in this together. Frankly, governor, the biggest philosophical difference between you and me is that I do believe that we're all in this together, and you believe this is a world of us and them."

To which Ehrlich responded (he did this several times), "I don't know what all that means."

Really? Because that right there tells me exactly what I needed to know about who should be Maryland's next governor.

Robert Barnes: thanks for the feedback. anyone else?

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Northern Virginia: Third wife? A double divorce and any kids from previous marriages?

Robert Barnes: One child with his first wife and three with his second. And here's something I'd never seen before: at a campaign rally in Arlington, his second wife introduced him and endorsed him, while Hong Webb looked on. Guess it ended well.

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Reston, Va.: Hello, I have a couple of fairly naive questions about the Virginia polling.

The intro to the data states that 1,004 people were surveyed, but only 78 percent were registered voters and some percentage of those were likely voters. Does that mean that more like 750 people actually answered the vast majority of the questions?

Also, in your analysis you have been drawing lots of interesting distinctions between Northern Virginia and the rest of the state, but I don't see a breakdown in the poll data of how many respondents were from Northern Virginia and how many weren't.

Finally, what was the definition of Northern Virginia for this poll?

Thank you.

Robert Barnes: I don't have that specific information on the number of likely voters, but will try to get it for you before our time is up.

Northern Virginia counts for about 30 percent of the state's vote. The differences of opinions there and the rest of the state are really quite striking.

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Silver Spring: I'm confident that Cardin will win the Maryland Senate seat, but I'd like to see him be more aggressive. Do you think the campaign will ever force Steele to talk about substance? I know that isn't a fear for Cardin, but since Steele is desperately trying to avoid having people learn he is more conservative than Bush on some issues (no abortion in the case of rape, comparing Stem Cell research to Nazi experimentation), why doesn't Cardin's campaign hammer home what Steele really is?

Robert Barnes: I take it you've missed the DSCC add that puts Steele and Bush together in a heart and the Cardin ad that features Steele nominating Bush for a second term? Those don't seem too subtle to me.

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Centreville, Va.: It's worth noting that Allen's first wife endorses him as well. She has also said that it's impossible that Allen used racial slurs in the way that Larry Sabato and others say he did.

Robert Barnes: Right you are.

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Burke, Va., via New York, N.Y.: What kid of chance do the Democrats have in the Virginia U.S. House races? Also, where do these Democrats stand on Metro financing and public transportation in general?

Robert Barnes: Hard to generalize about all the Democrats and their views on Metro financing. The Democratic challenge to Rep. Thelma Drake in the Hampton Roads region is thought to be the best change of unseating a Republican incumbent, followed by Judy Feder's campaign against Wolfe.

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20th St. & Pennsylvania, Ave., NW: I'm sorry Mr. Barnes, I find it impossible to believe Mr. Downie had no idea at all of the pro-Webb pieces would be published today. I fully expect about that same amount of propaganda until Election Day.

Robert Barnes: I can only tell you what I know, and, again, I didn't find either the news story or the Style story "pro-Webb." I just think there were too many stories today. Also, if I wasn't getting tired of defending others, I'd point out that the editorial board didn't endorse Webb in the Democratic primary.

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Silver Spring again: I didn't miss the ad. But comparing stem cell research to Nazi experimentation is pretty extreme. I don't think that people get the vibe that Steele is that out of the mainstream.

Robert Barnes: ok.

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moonbat Richmond Va: I don't think one can blame the Washington Post for spreading the "macaca" and "welcome to America" comments now that the Internet is here. That tape was on the Internet before the next edition of the Washington Post was out.

In my opinion, the "welcome to America" comment was by far more racist, but it never got as much air as the "macaca" comment, I guess because a funny word gets more airtime than another.

Robert Barnes: I'm always in favor of funny words.

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Tyson's Corner: Today's Post story says Webb isn't comfortable with telling his personal story -- military service and medals, etc -- in order to get elected. So did the Post even bother to look at his campaign web site? Because the darn thing is chock-full of personal stories. Seems like a pretty basic fundamental reporting task was skipped here.

washingtonpost.com: Webb Is Reluctant To Advertise Duty

Robert Barnes: Yes, and profiles of Webb have gone into detail about his background. But on the campaign trail, Webb doesn't speak much about it, and he has not released the kind of biographical ad that many candidates do. I think this is mostly because his campaign was broke after the primary and has spent much of the time since then responding to Allen's ads.

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Takoma Park: As a black man I didn't take offense to the word "slavishly." Look up the definition of slavishly. They include "Showing no originality; blindly imitative" and "Rigid or unwavering in following rules or instructions." It is used all the time, but I think it struck a chord because Steele is black and, it probably shouldn't have been used because of that reason.

At the same time, that is Steele when it comes to his beliefs. He is told what to think (see religion when it comes to social beliefs) and cannot think for himself.

And keep in mind that Don King has used the term Uncle Tom several times when black boxers would use white promoters. Steele didn't seem outraged using him for support.

Robert Barnes: thanks for writing in.

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Alexandria: Should the content of Jim Webb's books matter as part of deciding whether he's fit to be Senator? I was looking through one of them last night and found a passage describing a man performing a perverted sex act upon his son. Should I dismiss this as fiction, or wonder where in his mind this came from?

Robert Barnes: If you want more, as Libby Copeland wrote today, the Allen campaign can detail them for you. Lots of vile things happen in the real world, and novelists often write about them. It doesn't mean they thought of them. (Webb has also written a nonfiction book, Born Fighting, that spells out pretty well his political leanings and his resentment of "elites.") But of course, folks can decide how to vote based on any information they find important.

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Robert Barnes: That's all our time for today. Thanks so much for dropping by. I enjoy these chats, so come back next week.

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