Dem Primary Pits 'Lobbyist' Against 'Ex-Republican' in Va.

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:31 PM EDT

( - Voters will go to the polls in Virginia on Tuesday, June 13, to pick either a former corporate lobbyist or a former official from the Reagan administration to be the Democratic challenger to incumbent U.S. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) in this fall's election.

The former lobbyist is Harris Miller, a longtime advocate for the information technology industry, who promises to "tax the profits of Big Oil to pay for alternative fuels" and fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to "change course in Iraq."

His opponent is James Webb, who served as secretary of the U.S. Navy from 1987 to 1988. Webb supported President George W. Bush -- and Allen -- before breaking with the GOP over the invasion of Iraq, which he calls the "wrong war" in the conflict against terrorism.

Miller and Webb are from heavily Democratic northern Virginia, and both have extensive records of public service.

They have also been successful in the private sector. Miller served for more than a decade as president of the Arlington-based Information Technology Association of America, and Webb is the author of six best-selling military-suspense novels.

In most other matters, however, the two candidates are a study in contrasts.

Harris MillerMiller is a lifelong Democrat, though Webb only recently joined the party. Webb is a decorated Vietnam veteran, while Miller never served in the military.

Even though both Miller and Webb oppose the war in Iraq, they disagree on what to do about it.

Miller wants to fire Rumsfeld and "establish a clear exit strategy to bring our troops safely home," but Webb believes "we must leave carefully," which can only be achieved by stating that the U.S. "has no long-term plan to occupy Iraq" and our nation will work with our allies to find "the solution for the future of Iraq."

Webb also sees the war in Iraq as the cause of recent energy problems, including rising gas prices. "The first step," he said during a May 21 debate with Miller, "is to bring stability back into that region" to lower the cost of a barrel of crude oil.

Calling fuel prices a problem "of leadership as much as a matter of policy," Webb called for "a creative approach" to solar energy and increased production of crops for ethanol. "And I'm not opposed to nuclear power," he added.

For his part, Miller notes that "America's need for new energy policies has never been more clear" and vows to "support legislation to fund research and development of alternative energy by taxing excessive oil industry profits, bringing us closer to restoring our independence from the risks of foreign oil."

The candidates also differ in another important money matter: campaign finances.

James WebbWebb has received support from a number of national Democratic leaders. Contributions to his campaign have come from such well-known party officials as Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), 2004 presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) and former senators Tom Daschle and Bob Kerrey.

In addition, Webb has been endorsed by Rep. John Murtha (Pa.), former congressmen Owen Pickett and Leslie Byrne, General Wesley Clark and 11 members of the staff of former Va. Sen. Chuck Robb, whom Allen defeated in 2001.

Meanwhile, most of Miller's support has come from the local level, with several Virginia state senators and delegates and members of the Alexandria City Council contributing to his campaign, as well as a few national figures, most notably Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Kate Michelman, former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Staying neutral in the primary is former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, who earned national attention in 2001 by winning the top office in what is usually considered a Republican or "red" state. Still, Miller often refers to himself as "a shorter, poorer version" of Warner.

Miller's reliance on local money has given him an edge in campaign finances. Since declaring his candidacy in January, Miller has raised $561,700 and added $675,000 of his own. After spending $706,000 so far in his campaign, he enters the final week of the race with about $530,000 in the bank.

Webb, who didn't join the race until March, has received $447,000 and put in $100,000 of his own money. After spending $326,000, Webb has approximately $222,000 on hand for the final week of the primary.

However, neither Democratic candidate came close to matching Sen. Allen's fund-raising clout, as the incumbent Republican faces no opposition in the primary and enters the general election with about $7.5 million in his coffers.

Sen. George AllenNevertheless, Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, told Cybercast News Service he doesn't think Allen's tremendous financial advantage means the senator can simply coast to re-election in November while focusing on a run for the White House in 2008.

Allen "has never been weaker in Virginia, and I've known him for his entire career," Sabato said. He then listed two reasons the senator faces a tougher struggle now than in previous years.

First, "Virginia has moderated, and Allen has not really changed his positions, which you can praise or you can condemn, depending on your point of view," Sabato said. "The other reason is because it's a bad year for Republicans wherever, and that lops a few percent off right there."

While calling Miller "a traditional liberal Democrat," Sabato noted that the incumbent senator would have a tough time attacking Webb "on a lot of things because his positions are pretty much aligned with Republicans on a lot of issues," he said. "It's just that he's against the war in Iraq. That's really why he's running."

Sabato wouldn't predict a winner in the Democratic primary because "turnout is expected to be tiny. I don't know why they hold the primaries in June, but the turnout is always miserable, literally 2 or 3 percent. It's really just who shows up on a pleasant late spring day."

Nevertheless, Sabato was much more certain as to who will win in November. "I think Allen will win the general election, though he'll have to work especially hard if Webb's the nominee."

See Earlier Story:
Conservatives Predict Allen Will Face Clinton in 2008 (Feb. 13, 2006)

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