ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA— At an outdoor rally in Market Square, not far from the Pentagon, Jim Webb brought his senate campaign against George Allen to an end in the embrace of Bill Clinton.
Before a cheering crowd of more than a thousand supporters, the former president, who has been traveling the nation to stump for democratic candidates, had come to throw his weight behind Webb in what has turned out to be one of the closest races in the country.
Clinton raised once again the centrist slogans of both his administrations: tax the rich and provide tax cuts to the middle class. “It’s not true the Democrats are going to raise taxes on middle class Americans,’’ the former president said.
Both candidates had spent the day criss-crossing the state by plane, nearly bumping into one another in Norfolk, before Allen headed for a final campaign stop in Richmond, the state capital, and Webb headed to address his supporters here in Alexandria.
If nothing else, the Allen-Webb race will go down as one of the more curious in recent memory, with the issues all but subsumed by scandals real and imagined, and the incumbent, once thought to be positioning himself for a presidential bid in 2008 and a shoe-in for reelection, fighting for his political life.
At a recent campaign stop in Vienna, Virginia on Monday, Allen was greeted by protestors taunting him with calls of “Macaca,” a reference to the slur the Senator directed at Webb campaign staffer S.R. Sidarth in early August, a moment that marked the beginning of his campaign’s slow decline. At another recent stop in Fairfax, where Allen was to discuss transportation issues in the region, he was bombarded with questions about his sealed divorce records and his citations for illegal fishing. That day Allen had seemingly grown tired of addressing everything but the issues and he attempted to deflect this line of questioning. “I’ll tell you what the people of Virginia deserve and would like to see,” he said. “They like to know where you stand on taxes…on affordability of health care for small businesses and individuals, what are you going to do on energy independence.” Days later, after a video of Allen campaign staffers tackling a liberal blogger at a campaign event was circulated widely on the internet, the Senator blamed his opponent for the incident. “This is typical of what my opponent has done and his allies, trying to provoke incidents,” he said. “I wish he would try to rein that in.”
All told, Allen’s various gaffes and missteps (confirming his Jewish ancestry, which he only learned of during this campaign, he remarked “I still had a ham sandwich for lunch. And my mother made great pork chops.”), have earned his campaign the designation of being among the worst run by the Washington Post.
But Jim Webb, the Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan Administration, was not free from scandal either, though, unlike Allen’s dirty laundry, Webb’s was primarily dredged up by the Allen Campaign, who have accused him, among other things, of making sexist comments against women in the military. Most recently, the Allen campaign staffers circulated lurid passages from Webb’s novels, seeking to paint the democrat as out-of-step with moral values voters.
In a heavily divided state, which went to President Bush by 8 points in 2004, both candidates have set their sites on the swing vote in the exurbs of Prince William and Loudon in Northern Virginia, as well as Tidewater and Virginia Beach in Chesapeake county. And both have trotted out celebrities and political heavyweights on the campaign trail. In the week leading up to the election, Webb appeared with Senator Barack Obama and Michael J. Fox. Meanwhile, Allen was joined by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (and probable presidential candidate) in Ashburn, Virginia.
Both candidates have also tried to rally immigrant voters. According to Juan Carlos Ruiz, coordinator for the Adelante con Webb, a coalition of Latino leaders with close to five hundred volunteers, Webb has support of the Hispanic community because of his stances on raising the minimum wage, health care, education, and immigration. “Webb supports a path to citizenship for people who have been working in the country and [contributing] to the wealth of the country,” Ruiz said. Allen, for his part, gained the endorsement of the Latino Coalition based on his position on affirmative action, as well as his stance against the marriage amendment. “[Webb] has been very strongly opposed to comprehensive immigration reform,” said Latino Coalition President, Robert Deposada. “But then he goes to his audience and he tells them he is for immigration reform. It’s a slap in the face for Hispanics.”
At this point it’s anyone’s guess how the race will play out. The latest polls have it deadlocked – one shows Allen up by three points, another shows Webb up by four, a third has them tied.