Online NewsHour: Election 2000

U.S. Senator Chuck Robb
Democratic Incumbent: Virginia's
U.S. Senate Race

Return to Race Coverage Incumbent Democratic Senator Charles Robb is one of only four Virginians to serve as both governor and senator of Virginia. He's now trying to keep rival George Allen from becoming the fifth. Robb, 61, was first elected to the Senate in 1988, and has been in politics for 23 years. Known as a fiscal conservative but a social progressive, Robb has been a leading force in the national Democratic party.

A graduate of public school in Alexandria, Robb won an academic scholarship to Cornell University but later transferred to the University of Wisconsin at Madison where he joined its Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps unit. He was sent to Quantico, VA where he trained in officer candidate school.

As a U.S. Marine, Robb was assigned ceremonial duties at the White House where he met future wife Lynda Bird Johnson, daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson. They were married in 1967. Four months after the wedding, Robb was sent to fight in Vietnam where he commanded a rifle company and earned the Bronze Star.

When he returned from service, Robb earned a law degree from the University of Virginia.

Robb was elected lieutenant governor in 1977 and governor1981. Calling himself an "education governor," Robb added $1 billion to the education budget and made Virginia teacher's salaries the highest in the Southeast, boosting the state's national rank from 34th to 26th in the nation. Robb also expanded programs for gifted students, and toughened high school graduation requirements. This year he earned the endorsement of the Virginia Education Association, a teachers'union.

As governor, Robb appointed considerable numbers of blacks and women to top positions and signed the inter-state Chesapeake Bay Agreement to control pollution in one of the state's most important waterways.

In May 1984, in the middle of Robb's tenure, six convicted murderers escaped from Virginia's highest security prison - the biggest death row escape in U.S. history. The escape triggered prison riots, hostage taking and more escapes - a political nightmare for Robb, who was accused at the time of being soft on crime.

Yet, it was Robb who recommended the voluntary sentencing guidelines which paved the way for the later truth-in-sentencing initiative during Allen's administration. And it was under Robb that Virginia re-instituted the death penalty. Robb also formed a commission which instigated Virginia's first crackdown on drunk drivers.

Virginia law limits governors to one term. In 1986, when his term was up, Robb helped establish the Democratic Leadership Council, a blueprint for a national Democratic resurgence. One of Robb's council recruits, and a subsequent chairman, was Bill Clinton.

In 1988, Robb ran for the Senate and won by a margin of more than 40 points. Because of his interest in military and intelligence, he joined the Foreign Relations Committee and later joined the Intelligence and Armed Services committees.

In the Senate, Robb has focused on balancing the federal budget, maintaining a strong military, and increasing federal funding for public schools. In his first term, he voted with Republicans for the Gulf War resolution and Clarence Thomas' Supreme Court nomination. He also supported Clinton's 1994 crime bill and his "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military. Robb has been known to take unpopular stances in the senate such as supporting equal rights for homosexuals and tax increases, and opposing a constitutional amendment banning flag burning.

After a flurry of personal scandals that were exposed during the middle of his first term in the senate, Robb faced an extremely controversial opponent in his re-election bid: Iran Contra figure Oliver North. Robb defeated North by 3 percentage points.

During his second term, Robb was the only Democrat to vote for all six major Republican initiatives in 1995, yet he also opposed tax cuts and voted for a ban on job discrimination against gays in 1996. He voted repeatedly to eliminate the marriage tax penalty.

Robb supported the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, creating the first federally balanced budget in decades. He supported President Bush's decision to use force in the Persian Gulf and co-sponsored a resolution with John McCain to use "all necessary force" in Kosovo in 1999. A longtime advocate of "beefing up" defense, Robb cosponsored bipartisan legislation which raised military pay and benefits by 4.8 percent.

His record on abortion, a hot topic of the race, has been pro-choice and he voted for a bill in the Senate that would allow U.S. servicewomen to have abortions overseas as long as they pay for it themselves. Robb favors limits on late term abortions with exceptions for the woman's health, and he supports parental notification for minors.

Robb has never lost a race, despite being outspent by many of his opponents. But many of his victories have been close. In this race, Robb has raised about $5.1 million, compared to rival George Allen's $8.5 million. Robb lives in McLean, VA with his wife Lynda. They have three grown daughters.

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