Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Webb Opens Race to Replace Allen; Ex-Reagan Aide Criticizes Ethics in Washington, Iraq War
Webb Opens Race to Replace Allen
Ex-Reagan Aide Criticizes Ethics in Washington, Iraq War
By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer

GATE CITY, Va., April 25 -- Democrat James Webb officially kicked off his campaign for the U.S. Senate in this conservative corner of Virginia on Tuesday, offering a strongly populist indictment of the Bush administration and pledging to seek an end to the war in Iraq and a "culture of corruption" in Washington.

Webb, a former Republican who served briefly as President Ronald Reagan's secretary of the Navy, didn't mention his Democratic opponent in the June 13 primary, Harris Miller, and didn't dwell much on Sen. George Allen (R), who is seeking a second term.

But he scalded the Bush administration and a Republican Congress that he said had sent "other people's kids to war and other people's kids to bad schools."

Webb, 60, has never run for political office before and has a mixed background of support for both parties -- he voted for President Bush in 2000 and even endorsed Allen when he was elected to the Senate six years ago.

But Webb was an early opponent of the Iraq invasion, and his military credentials -- he's a decorated Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War -- make him to some Democrats and an enthusiastic base of liberal bloggers an attractive candidate against the conservative Allen.

"We have a lot of work to do and a lot of cleaning up to do," he told his supporters in Gate City. "Number one is to end the war in Iraq and refocus our military." Webb said it was not contradictory to support the troops and urge an end to the war. He told his audience that his son, also a Marine, is schedule to be deployed to Iraq this summer.

"My objection to the war is not aimed at my country but at the administration that has chosen to wage this war, an administration that has muddied the truth, made mistake after mistake and refused to accept responsibility," he said.

Webb's event in Gate City was a homey affair in a field by an old farmhouse, organized by his cousin Jewel Jones and attended by about 50 people, two dogs and a videographer from the Allen campaign. Webb said that his ancestors hail from the area and that starting the campaign there was symbolic of his roots.

Webb has more events planned for Wednesday in Richmond, Fredericksburg and Arlington County.

The former boxer and Naval Academy graduate criticized Allen as a "rubber stamp" in an administration that has ballooned the federal deficit, authorized a domestic spying campaign and entered into a misguided war. "George Allen is in the middle of this, try as he might to distance himself from it," Webb said. "Voting with this president 97 percent of the time tends to hold you accountable."

But Webb spoke mostly about the Bush administration and a culture in Washington that has made people suspicious of their political leaders. "Why? Because we're in the hands of people who follow no creed," he said. "They speak to you of values but know nothing other than political expediency and blind loyalty to a money-drenched political machine."

And he said the country "has been broken into three groups: The people at the top are living a luxury never before imagined, even while the middle class sees its jobs being outsourced overseas and their health care slipping away and the public schools declining, and as the people at the bottom are becoming a permanent underclass."

Because Virginians don't register by party, any voter may participate in the primary. Miller, a longtime Democratic activist, has criticized Webb for his support for Republican candidates, criticism of affirmative action and the role of women in the military. Webb has countered that he is more appealing to a wide swath of Virginians.

"I think people who care about things that I care about should feel comfortable in the Democratic Party," he said.

Webb was wearing combat boots with his suit Tuesday, in contrast to the cowboy boots that Allen is known for. He said he is wearing them to show support for his son and others in the military and urged supporters to put on boots -- "any kind other than cowboy" -- and "join this journey."