updated 9/8/2006 3:39:03 PM ET 2006-09-08T19:39:03

Democrat Jim Webb will air the first television ad of his political career next week - a spot that features praise for Webb from the 20th century's most celebrated Republican, President Reagan.

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By using the ultimate GOP icon, the former Reagan military adviser and one-time Republican Webb sends a sentimental message directly to conservatives and moderates his opponent, Sen. George Allen, is courting.

The 30-second ad opens with video of Reagan praising Webb during a 1985 commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy. Interspersed against the Reagan footage are black-and-white photos of Webb as a Naval Academy cadet, as a Marine on combat duty in Vietnam and shaking hands with Reagan.

Shift from Reagan to announcer barely distinguishable
In addressing the graduates, Reagan noted that Webb, a Navy grad, was an assistant secretary of defense in his administration at the time.

"James' gallantry as a Marine in Vietnam won him the Navy Cross and other decorations," Reagan says on the video.

As Reagan disappears from the screen, the shift from Reagan's voice to the similarly mellow voice of a male announcer is barely distinguishable. It almost sounds as though Reagan, who died in 2004, speaks in the present: "Soldier. Scholar. Leader. Now Jim Webb is running for Senate," the announcer picks up from Reagan with no discernible pause and scant shift in cadence.

Plus and minuses
The ad begins airing Monday in the northern Virginia, Norfolk and Roanoke media markets, said Webb spokeswoman Kristian Denny Todd.

Using Reagan in his television advertising debut has benefits, but it carries some risk, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

"It's mainly smart to have Reagan doing his bio (biographical) ad, and that's what this is. It will catch a lot of eyes because it's Ronald Reagan speaking in the mid-80s, in his prime as president," Sabato said in a telephone interview after listening to the audio portion of the commercial.

The ad comes nearly two weeks after Allen, seeking a second term, began airing two biographical ads statewide while Webb scrambled to raise the money to buy ads. Allen's campaign had more than $6.6 million on hand at the start of July compared to $424,245 for Webb.

Democrat for Reagan
Webb, who left the GOP over President Bush's decision to invade Iraq and other disagreements with the party, won a contentious primary over a longtime Democratic activist after entering the campaign with the goal of bringing home Democrats who left the party for Reagan in 1980.

Despite his party switch, Webb makes no secret of his abiding reverence for Reagan, whom he also served briefly as Navy secretary.

Those ties to Reagan, however, and the prominent use of him in Webb's first ad could alienate black voters, many of whom regard Reagan as anything but a hero, Sabato said.

Statewide Democratic candidates rely on strong support from black voters, a bedrock Democratic constituency, for success.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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