On Election Eve, Senate Race is Neck-and-Neck
Six months ago, no one would have predicted the race for the U.S. Senate in Virginia would be competitive. Republican incumbent George Allen seemed a shoe-in, more focused on a potential presidential election bid next year than this month’s election.
But now, in the final days before the Nov. 7 election, Allen is scrambling for his political life, in a virtual dead heat with a man who’d never sought public office before.
Actually, four different polls all show Democratic upstart James Webb slightly ahead of Allen, but all within the so-called margin of error. They all show a potential voting pattern identical to the one that elected Democrat Tim Kaine governor of Virginia a year ago.
That had the Democrat carrying Northern Virginia overwhelmingly, accounting for virtually the entire winning margin statewide. This time, there are strong indications of a repeat, with the difference being that the Democrat is faced with a more formidable foe. Allen, after all, is not only a sitting U.S. senator, but former governor of the Commonwealth, as well.
But any advantage Allen might have had by virtue of that melted away with what appears clearly now to be the single biggest turning point in the campaign, Allen’s use of the derogatory term, “macaca,” in reference to an American-born citizen of Indian descent during a Southwest Virginia campaign event last Aug. 11. The incident was videotaped by the target of the slur and the national publicity that ensued resulted in an immediate dip for Allen in the polls from which he’s not recovered.
Subsequently, Allen was assailed by former teammates on the football team at the University of Virginia who claimed he used racial slurs against Afro-Americans while there, and took yet another hit for his apparent reluctance to embrace his Jewish heritage during a debate in McLean in September.
Allen has sought to recover by putting Webb on the defensive, pointing to some of Webb’s written statements during the Vietnam era and while U.S. Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration that called into question the role of women in the military. Last week, he extracted segments from a number of popular war-time novels written by Webb describing sexual situations, and argued that someone who would write such things is not fit to be a U.S. Senator.
Webb responded in both cases by putting them in context, noting that some of his novels, including “Fields of Fire,” had been taught in military schools and formally commended at the highest military levels.
He has also been buoyed by high-profile press conferences held by leading spokespersons for women in the military and a tour now underway around the state by military veterans supporting his campaign.
On substantive issues, Allen has focused on statements by Webb suggesting that he would raise taxes if elected. His colleague from Virginia in the U.S. Senate, Sen. John Warner, has endorsed him.
Webb, in appearances with Former President Bill Clinton in McLean and Arlington last week and one scheduled with actor Michael J. Fox tonight in Arlington, has focused on differences with Allen issues such as Iraq and issues and stem cell research. Webb has also been endorsed by Former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder, considered to hold considerable sway among Afro-American and independent voters.
The key issues like Iraq and stem cell research are resonating nationally in what may be one of the biggest Congressional shifts in a since election in U.S. history. Much of Webb’s success in making his race as close as it is has to do with a general contempt for the GOP leadership in Washington reflected by wide margins in all national polls.
While it is universally acknowledged that the Webb-Allen race is now too close to call, more unclear is how the national mood may reflect itself in two Northern Virginia Congressional races that were also considered more than safe for Republican incumbents up until very recently.
GOP Rep. Frank Wolf has represented the 10th District of Virginia, now predominantly in Loudoun County, for two dozen years and GOP Rep. Tom Davis has held the 11th District in Greater Falls Church and Fairfax County since 1994, sometimes even running unopposed. Their margins of support in their districts have been augmented by gerrymandered redistricting in 1991 and 2001.
But this time, each is faced with upstart Democratic challengers with no past experience running for public office, a lot like Webb in that respect. Each has raised more money than any challenger in those districts before and has been talking for months like they plan to win. Andrew Hurst, running against Davis, and Judy Feder, running against Wolf, point to the polls showing a significant majority of voters in each district are fed up with the existing Congress.
Another open question is the fate of the first policy item on the ballot next week, the controversial Marshall-Newman Amendment, the so-called “Marriage Amendment.”
Listed on the ballot as “Question #1,” if passed it would amend the Virginia Constitution to specify that “only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid” in Virginia. Proponents of the Republican-sponsored measure, such as Sen. Allen, argue the amendment is needed to fend off the movement in the courts to extend the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established equality under the law for lesbians and gays.
But opponents, including Webb, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine and Former Governor Mark Warner, have condemned a measure which would single out for the first time in the Virginia Constitution a class of citizens to be denied rights. They also argue that the amendment has “unintended consequences.” Over 200 Virginia attorneys have signed a statement indicating the wording of the second and third paragraphs of the amendment could call into question all contracts among unmarried persons because of its vague wording. The second paragraph states that Virginia “shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals.”
Opponents site polls showing that when prospective voters are aware of the wider potential consequences of the amendment, the results are a dead heat. They are counting on a similar voting pattern to the one Webb supporters are hoping for.
In the 8th Congressional District of Virginia, incumbent Rep. Jim Moran is considered safe in Tuesday’s election.
On the ballot in the City of Falls Church, Cathy Kaye is running with the endorsement of the Falls Church City Democratic Committee against Margaret Housen, an independent.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. all over the Commonwealth Tuesday. Following the closing of the polls, Democrats will rally at the Sheraton Premiere in Tysons Corner and area Republicans at the Fairview Marriott in Merrifield.