When is a Senate race more than just a Senate race? When Democrats think they can score a trifecta by beating a Republican incumbent in the South, hobbling him as a possible presidential candidate and boosting the fortunes of one of their White House wannabes. That's the weighty challenge for novice politician Jim Webb, a decorated Vietnam vet and a senior Pentagon official under Ronald Reagan who is challenging Republican Senator George Allen in Virginia.
Webb still has to get through the June 13 Democratic primary, but pragmatists in his party are already tipping him as the man to win in November against the folksy Allen, who is also mulling a run for President in 2008. Allen's continued support for the war in Iraq and for President Bush has hurt his approval ratings, while Webb, a former Marine and an early, articulate critic of the war, has seen his numbers rise. University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato says both score about 40% in polls. "Jim Webb is George Allen's worst nightmare: a war hero and a Reagan appointee who holds moderate positions," says Sabato. "Allen tries to project a Reagan aura, but Webb already has it."
Webb has drawn a diverse crowd of supporters. Conservative columnist George F. Will has written an approving article about him, three retired generals have endorsed him, and he has raised thousands of dollars from Hollywood for his campaign. He also seems to have the backing of former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, a moderate Democrat who will probably run for President in 2008. Warner, who initially encouraged businessman Harris Miller to run, has said he will stay neutral before the primary. But he may be changing his bet: he makes his first public appearance with Webb this week, at a fund raiser in Arlington, Va.