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Supporters of Virginia Senate Candidates Speak Out

November 2, 2006 at 6:09 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Now, the last of the big three Senate races we’ve looked at this week, each key to deciding control of the United States Congress. Tonight, Virginia, and to Margaret Warner.

MARGARET WARNER: Locked in one of the tightest races in the country, Democrat Jim Webb got a boost today in his bid to unseat Virginia Republican Senator George Allen.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: How you doing, Virginia?

MARGARET WARNER: The Democratic Party’s rising star, Illinois Senator Barack Obama rallied Webb’s supporters in Richmond this afternoon.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: You in Virginia have somebody right here who can be elected to the United States Senate if in the next few days everybody here makes the effort.

MARGARET WARNER: Webb, a former Vietnam veteran and Republican-appointed Navy secretary, trailed Allen by hefty double-digit margins for months. But today, a Reuters-Zogby poll has Webb ahead of Allen by 1 percentage point, a statistical dead heat.

Allen is a well-known figure across the commonwealth.

Virginians elected him governor in 1994, and senator in 2000. He began this campaign as an easy favorite for re-election, but a series of gaffes opened the door for Webb’s surge.

In August, there was the now-famous “macaca” incident, in which Allen mocked a dark-skinned Webb campaign volunteer during a rally in rural southwest Virginia.

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), Virginia: And welcome — let’s give a welcome to Macaca here.

MARGARET WARNER: Then came accusations from former acquaintances that he had repeatedly used racial epithets against blacks. Allen addressed both controversies at a debate in Richmond last month.

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN: I made a mistake, careless words. I’ve apologized for it, and it’s been discussed quite much. And then you have these baseless allegations who do not depict who I am, how I was raised, or what I believe in.

MARGARET WARNER: Webb, too, has had to defend himself. He’s been blasted by Allen for an article he wrote 27 years ago criticizing the admission of women to the U.S. Naval Academy and arguing they’re not suited for combat. Allen’s campaign even organized a press conference in September with five female Naval Academy graduates.

MARY KATHLEEN MURRAY, Naval Academy Graduate: There is no question that James Webb’s attitudes and philosophy were major factors behind the unnecessary abuse and hazing received by me and my fellow women midshipmen.

MARGARET WARNER: More recently, Allen attacked Webb, a successful novelist, for sexually explicit passages in several of his books, arguing they demeaned women.

These personal attacks — and issues, from Iraq to health care to taxes — have been fought out over the airwaves, too, with millions spent on negative ads over the last several weeks.

AD ANNOUNCER: George Allen tried to steer government contracts to a company that paid him stock options.

AD ANNOUNCER: Jim Webb sure has some interesting plans, like raising taxes $2,000 on the average Virginia family.

MARGARET WARNER: This afternoon in Richmond, Webb returned to the issue on which he launched his campaign: his disagreement with President Bush and Senator Allen on the Iraq war.

JAMES WEBB (D), Virginia Senate Candidate: We need to get a diplomatic solution on the table. We need to get our combat troops out. And we can do that and still win the war on international terrorism.

MARGARET WARNER: Allen is going to have popular Virginia Senator John Warner stump with him this weekend.

Senate race grows more competitive

MARGARET WARNER: And for more on the Virginia Senate race, we're joined now by two Virginia political figures who won election just last year: the Democratic governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine; and Virginia's attorney general, Bob McDonnell, a Republican.

And welcome to you both, gentlemen. I bet hearing those ads makes you glad you're not running this year.

GOV. TIM KAINE (D), Virginia: That's definitely the case.

MARGARET WARNER: Governor, let me begin with you. George Allen, of course, was supposed to be a shoe-in for re-election this time. What happened? I mean, do you think it was just the gaffes or is there something else going on?

GOV. TIM KAINE: I think there's two other things going on, Margaret. One is Jim Webb is just a remarkable individual. His record of combat bravery and leadership, his leadership as secretary of the Navy and undersecretary of defense, his long career in writing in a sensitive way about the experience of soldiers in wartime makes him a great candidate, matched with this time.

This a time where Virginians and Americans are so concerned about issues, including Iraq. And to have somebody in the race who has been on the ground, whose own son is a Marine in Ramadi, Iraq, today has made a lot of people really gravitate to Jim Webb.

MARGARET WARNER: What do you think, Mr. Attorney General? What do you think happened to at least put these two candidates on par, when for so long they weren't?

BOB MCDONNELL (R), Virginia Attorney General: Well, George Allen has been a remarkable political figure in Virginia for a long time, arguably one of the most successful governors in the modern era, with all of the things that he did to reform welfare, abolish parole, and establish truth in sentencing, but people haven't been talking about that distinguished record.

I think there has been a lot of focus, particularly with some of the national Democrats and the national media, on some old statements and old controversies that have sort of dominated the airwaves and the media. And the senator I know has been trying to return the focus to his positive record of accomplishment.

Today in Virginia, our welfare rolls are down, our streets are safer, our schools are performing better. And that's all the legacy of George Allen from 10 years ago as governor. And so that's what he's going to focus on at the end to make this a win.

The issue of the Iraq war

MARGARET WARNER: But, Mr. McDonnell, how much of this do you think is the Iraq war? Do you think that Allen would be in trouble even with these gaffes if it weren't for the climate created by the war?

BOB MCDONNELL: Well, I think that's a part of it, and obviously there was rumors of the senator considering a presidential bid over the last couple of years, which has really increased the focus and the scrutiny on everything he says and everything he does.

But certainly the Iraq war is a leading issue. I know my daughter just returned from Iraq; Mr. Webb's got a son over there. We really respect those accomplishments. But this is a defining issue in the war on terror and how we fight it.

The senator believes we ought to fight it abroad in order to take the terrorists on, where they work and where they live, and not have it here. We've been safe for five years in the United States and in Virginia as a result of that leadership, and I think it's important to remind people about that.

But certainly, because of the Iraq war, we haven't been able to put this incredible focus on the major economic achievements, with gas prices being down a buck in the last month, record stock market, and all these other important things that people are not focusing on.

And if they would, I think the Republicans would do much better.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. And, Governor, do you agree that the Iraq war, other than these character assaults on one another, has overshadowed everything else?

GOV. TIM KAINE: Well, I think it's been a critical issue, and it should be. Look, there's no state that has more of a military presence than Virginia. One out of 10 Virginians is a veteran. If you're not from Virginia, there's a chance that you spent some time in a military installation in Virginia.

And so Americans have a deep, deep concern about ineffectiveness in this war, about the lack of a plan, and about what we are doing in sacrificing young lives without a clear strategy for success.

I think Jim Webb has a strategy that couples, not just military might, but with diplomacy, which America seems to have let go the last few years. And Jim Webb understands that that's got to be a critical part of any solution to bring peace to Iraq and also to keep up the fight against terrorism.

Virginia: red, blue or purple?

MARGARET WARNER: I'd like you both to help us analyze now Virginia, because it's always been thought of recently as a red state, but the analyst Charlie Cook says it's really a purple state. Last year, you're from different parties, you both won in the same election.

And, Governor, beginning with you, do you think that Virginia is changing politically?

GOV. TIM KAINE: I do. I think the purple state is a fairly good description, and that's why you saw a split ticket last year. You know, my race...

MARGARET WARNER: And what's driving it, if so?

GOV. TIM KAINE: I think it's demographic changes. And also Virginians do not register by party. So even if they have a party lean, I think Virginians are pretty darn independent. And so they're willing to make up their mind based upon the particular time and the person, and that means, when they see at the national level things going in a bad direction, they're willing to make a change. And I think that's one of the things that has made this race so competitive.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Mr. Attorney General, what about the demographic changes? Do you agree that the growth of Northern Virginia and the Hampton Roads area and the influx of people from elsewhere in the country is changing the old southern character and conservatism of Virginia?

BOB MCDONNELL: Well, I grew up in Northern Virginia, lived in the Hampton Roads the last 21 years. They are different, more urban, certainly, than the other parts of the state.

But, look, the long-term history over the last three decades here in Virginia has been a decided movement towards Republican leadership. The Democrat Party controlled the legislature for 130 years; it's only been eight years, for the first time in history, that the Republicans took over.

We've got eight out of the 11 congressmen, both United States senators, majorities in both houses, and I think this retrenchment in a tough race that I had and Governor Kaine's election was a little bit of a blip on the screen. But the move over the last few decades in Virginia has been a decided move towards the positive idea-oriented vision of the Republican Party in Virginia.

War, gay marriage key in final days

MARGARET WARNER: And so, Governor, what would you expect now for the Webb campaign to be focusing on? I'm talking now about especially the turnout operation in the last four days?

GOV. TIM KAINE: Well, it's just -- you know, it's hard to say what the focus should be. At some point now, all the work just starts to pay off. And what we're seeing with Jim Webb around the state is huge crowds, huge rallies, a sense of momentum, and excitement, and optimism that I haven't seen for a long time.

There's a good plan in place to make sure that people turn out and vote, and early indications are that Virginians will take this race very, very seriously. The more people that come to the polls, I think, the better Jim Webb is going to do, and I think we're going to have good turnout next Tuesday.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Mr. McDonnell, what do you expect to see the Allen campaign concentrating on, especially in terms of turnout?

BOB MCDONNELL: Well, I know Senator Allen is going to be talking about his record as a senator and a governor, remind people of the tremendous accomplishments, and what he's done to create practical results to make Virginians' lives better.

He'll be talking about the marriage amendment, about his endorsement by every major veteran group in Virginia, with our heavy military population. All the major business groups that believe in free enterprise have endorsed Senator Allen. I think he's going to remind people of that, and then we're going to work very hard at the grassroots level, travel around the state for the next four days, starting tomorrow with the senator, to energize our people.

The Republican base in Virginia loves George Allen. They've seen him in public service in action for 25 years. They know his record, and they're motivated to see him win next Tuesday.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask a quick, final question to you, Governor, if you can be quick, the anti-gay marriage amendment, which Webb does oppose, but it's on the ballot, is that going to hurt him?

GOV. TIM KAINE: Well, Webb is, like me, a strong supporter of marriage. And the amendment -- Jim and I both believe it's not really about marriage, because it has one sentence that restates existing law about marriage that we support.

He opposes it, as do I, because there are two additional sentences that basically would work, in our view, a very serious reduction of the rights of all unmarried individuals. And it's one thing to say marriage is between a man and a woman. We both support that. But to go further than that, and put the rights of unmarried individuals at risk is just not something we should do.

And, you know, I think Jim Webb is just going to do absolutely fine because of the way the momentum is going in this race.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. And, Mr. McDonnell, I think I heard you say that, in fact, George Allen does support that amendment, is that right?

BOB MCDONNELL: He does. That's right in line with the traditional values of Virginians. The New Jersey Supreme Court proved last week why you need to have that to protect that in the Constitution, why a statute's not sufficient. And I think it will pass, and it will help George Allen.

MARGARET WARNER: OK, Mr. Attorney General and Governor, thank you both.

BOB MCDONNELL: Thank you very much.

GOV. TIM KAINE: Thank you, Margaret. Take care.

BOB MCDONNELL: Thank you.