In a speech to union leaders today, Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) sought to contrast himself with his likely Republican challenger, sounding a variety of themes that pleased the audience, including support for spending more on schools and Medicare.

During his speech before about 200 members of the AFL-CIO, Robb did not once mention former Virginia governor George Allen, his opponent in the 2000 Senate race. Instead, he repeatedly referred to those who support policies antithetical to the labor movement's agenda.

"There are those who say we ought to enact a giant tax cut today, whether the surplus is ever actually developed or not . . . and to give the benefit of that surplus disproportionately to those who least need a tax cut," Robb said. "I say we ought to protect Social Security and Medicare first."

In an interview after the speech, Robb said that he would not go on the offensive against Allen until next year and that today's speech did not foreshadow the themes he will emphasize as the election draws closer. Robb said he did not want to distract public attention from Virginia General Assembly races in November that will determine which party controls the legislature.

The union gathering--a biennial political meeting--offered Robb a sympathetic audience. His comments were repeatedly interrupted by applause, and he received a standing ovation when he finished. Union members also handed Robb campaign donations after he spoke. He collected $334,150 in labor-related political action committee money from 1993 to 1998, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog group in Washington.

Allen, the son of the late Washington Redskins coach of the same name and governor from 1994 to 1998, is pressing a tax-cutting and law-and-order agenda in his bid to oust Robb. Allen previously served a 14-month stint in the U.S. House of Representatives, during which he cast himself as an outsider who applied common sense to decision-making.

At today's union convention, in a ballroom at a Williamsburg hotel, Robb was introduced by Virginia AFL-CIO President Daniel LeBlanc, who described Allen as a "worker hater" and opponent of labor's agenda.

Allen spokesman Jay Timmons said: "Governor Allen worked tirelessly during his administration to create record numbers of new high-paying jobs for Virginians. And perhaps Danny was not living in Virginia between 1994 and 1998."

During his 19-minute speech, Robb spoke slowly in measured tones.

He described his support for legislation that would help pay for the construction and renovation of 5,000 schools. "There are those who say the federal government shouldn't be helping our nation's public schools," he said. "I say our schools need all the help they can get."

He also said he supported expanding family and medical leave to allow "mothers and fathers . . . to be able to take time off work for the birth or illness of a child or the illness of a parent." He also said he backs efforts to prevent health maintenance organizations and insurance companies from having the "final say" about appropriate medical care. In addition, Robb boasted of his support for an increase in the minimum wage.

After the speech, Robb said there are contrasts between himself and Allen "on every issue I talked about."