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updated 9/29/2006 6:06:40 PM ET 2006-09-29T22:06:40

Several Republican incumbents are finding themselves in tough re-election battles this year due to circumstances that are arguably out of their control -- dissatisfaction with President Bush and the war in Iraq and a prevailing anti-incumbent sentiment. But in Virginia, GOP Sen. George Allen's woes are largely his own.

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About two months ago, the first-term senator and former governor of a solidly red state was believed to be coasting to re-election and a likely presidential bid in 2008.

But now Allen is spending millions of dollars on campaign ads, primarily in the northern part of the state, to fight the growing tide of criticism and media scrutiny that began when he used a little-known racial epithet to refer to a young man of Indian descent videotaping Allen's stump speeches for the Democratic opposition. The video of the incident, which drew a national audience when it was quickly posted on the YouTube Web site, shows Allen calling S.R. Sidarth -- a Virginia native -- "macaca" and telling him, "Welcome to America, and the real world of Virginia."

More recently, questions about Allen's previously undisclosed Jewish heritage and allegations of racism in his past have put issues of race and ethnicity at the center of his re-election battle.

But in his first negative ad of the cycle, Democratic challenger James Webb sidestepped the personal controversies dogging Allen's campaign and chose instead to bring the conversation back to the issue that had previously defined the race: the candidates' different positions on the war in Iraq.

A Vietnam veteran and former secretary of the Navy under former President Ronald Reagan, Webb has said he considered himself a Republican -- one who voted for Allen in 2000 -- until frustration with the handling of Iraq compelled him to run as a Democrat this year.

Webb's controversial debut spot featured Reagan and highlighted his military background. In the newest spot, airing in just three Virginia media markets, footage of Bush and Allen repeating the "stay the course" mantra on Iraq are juxtaposed with scenes of chaos from the war-torn country. Webb appears at the end of the spot to caution viewers, "The people who failed to prevent this disaster are not the ones you can count on to fix it."

Meanwhile, the Allen camp has tried to turn the tables on Webb, launching a two-pronged offensive to divert some of the media attention to a controversy in Webb's own past while shoring up the incumbent's security credentials.

Two of Allen's new ads reference a magazine article Webb wrote in 1979, entitled "Women Can't Fight," in which he argued against women serving in combat positions and called the U.S. Naval Academy a "horny woman's dream." In the Allen spots several female USNA graduates speak out against the piece, calling it "demoralizing from a perspective that only a woman could understand" and warning Virginia's female voters that Webb "is no advocate for women."

And Allen didn't stop there. Countering Webb's charges from another angle, yet another new statewide spot  features one of the nation's most recognizable military heroes -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. -- heaping praise on Allen's "leadership, vision, courage."

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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