Upset Gives Dems a Clear Senate Edge
Democratic upstart James Webb, coming out of obscurity with a penniless campaign last February, declared himself the victor in Virginia’s U.S. Senate race Tuesday, knocking off incumbent Republican George Allen.
Late last night, the Associated Press and NBC also declared Webb the Victor. Allen, who had mulled a recount, was rumored near conceding. With a lead of 7,307 votes Webb declared, “We won,” early yesterday.
Rep. Jim Moran, who won easy reelection to an eighth term in the U.S. Congress from Northern Virginia’s 8th District, concurred. “He won,” Moran said emphatically in an interview with the News-Press at a post-election victory luncheon of Arlington Democrats yesterday.
By late yesterday, the first press release was issued by the Webb camp characterizing Webb as “Senator-elect.” In that release, the appointment of three Virginians to Webb’s U.S. Senate transition team was announced.
It was followed by one with Senator-elect Webb commenting on the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “I am pleased that we have a new Secretary of Defense,” the brief statement read, “But I believe that the new Senate should be the body that examines Bob Gates’ qualifications for confirmation.”
According to the Virginia State Board of Elections, with three precincts not reporting yesterday afternoon, the vote was 1,172,534 for Webb and 1,165,227 for Allen. A Green Party candidate received 26,190 votes and there were 2,348 write ins. Of 4,555,635 registered voters in the state, 2,366,299 voted, 51.94% of the total.
A victory for Webb will give Democrats 51 seats in the U.S. Senate to 49 for the Republicans. That new majority, combined with a Democratic sweep into majority control of the House of Representatives, would mark one of the biggest electoral turnarounds in U.S. history and a return to power in Congress for the Democrats for the first time in 12 years.
While low popularity ratings for President Bush, deepening opposition to the U.S. involvement in Iraq and outrage over a sequence of corruption and sex scandals among leading GOP legislators led many to predict Democrats would take over the House, few felt they could win back the Senate.
But in all the close races, the Democrats won, including in Missouri and Montana. Along with them, Republican campaign issues were also defeated in three bell weather statewide votes in South Dakota, Missouri and Arizona.
In Virginia, polls showed the margin between Webb and Allen to be a virtual dead heat for months since Allen uttered the now-infamous term, “macaca,” in reference to an Indian-American at a campaign event in mid-August.
Last spring, Allen was considered a shoe-in for re-election on his way to a bid for a U.S. presidential run for 2008.
But Webb first took on the establishment in the Virginia Democratic Party to win its primary election in June. The large bulk of Democratic elected officials in the state backed his opponent, former Fairfax County party chair Harris Miller, in the primary.
Webb’s strident anti-Iraq stance, coming as a war hero and former Secretary of the Navy in a Republican administration, was attractive to anti-war activists in the party who helped lift his campaign out of obscurity to a slim victory in the primary. The Falls Church News-Press was one of only two newspapers in Virginia to endorse Webb in that primary.
Webb began to make gains against Allen immediately based on his military record and appeal to bi-partisan support. While the “macaca” incident became a major turning point against Allen, he could not recover. His apparent unwillingness to publicly embrace his Jewish family heritage at a debate in McLean in September and allegations by former teammates of his routine use of racial slurs while on the football team at the University of Virginia hindered his rebound efforts.
In the final days of the campaign, Allen took to attacking Webb on the basis of some allegedly-salacious content in his award-winning novels on the Vietnam War. That move drew sharp criticism from detractors who pointed to the commendations the novels received from military institutions where the books are recommended reading.
In the meantime, Webb proved a consistent and relentless campaigner. He won the support of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who appeared on his behalf in McLean and Falls Church. Albright spoke for him at a rally on the porch of Falls Church’s history Cherry Hill Farmhouse, a block from City Hall, last Saturday night.
Webb was mobbed by enthusiastic supporters and the media when he went to vote Tuesday morning at the Bailey’s Elementary School in the Culmore section of Falls Church, which has been his home polling place since moving to the Lake Barcroft section of Falls Church years ago.
He appeared at a giant rally of Democratic supporters and candidates in Tysons Corner Tuesday night where the tally showed him taking the lead shortly after midnight.
In other area races, veteran Republican incumbents Tom Davis and Frank Wolf survived challenges from first-time Democratic candidates. Davis carried his 11th District over Andrew Hurst by 55.4% to 43.6% to win a sixth term, and Wolf won his 10th District over Judy Feder by 57.3% to 40.9% for an 11th term.
Moran’s margin of victory in the 8th District over Republican challenger Tom O’Donoghue was 65.6% to 31.3%.
In the City of Falls Church, Democratic-nominated Cathy Kaye was a landslide winner in the race for City Treasurer over Margaret Housen by 75.7% to 22.8%.