James Webb, a former Reagan administration Navy secretary who left the Republican Party over the Iraq war, won the Democratic nomination Tuesday for the right to take on GOP Sen. George Allen in the fall.
Webb defeated lobbyist and longtime Democratic Party activist Harris Miller after a bruising primary in which voters decided between a traditional and unabashed liberal (Miller) and a former Republican (Webb) whose populist campaign was aimed at so-called Reagan Democrats — namely, rural, white moderates.
With nearly all precincts reporting, Webb had 82,513 votes, or 53.5 percent, compared with 71,856 votes, or 46.5 percent, for Miller. Except for the Washington suburbs, turnout was low across Virginia, a state unaccustomed to primaries. The last Democratic Senate primary was in 1994.
Allen is seeking a second term and also pursuing a 2008 bid for president. He had no GOP challenger.
Four other states also held elections Tuesday, including primaries for governor in Maine and South Carolina; a Democratic runoff for the nomination for lieutenant governor in Arkansas; and referendums on constitutional amendments in North Dakota.
Both Democratic candidates in Virginia sought to tie Allen tightly to Bush, particularly over Iraq. But Webb was seen by some as having particular credibility on military issues because of his background as a decorated Marine lieutenant in Vietnam and later Navy secretary. Webb, who endorsed Allen six years ago, underscored the point by campaigning in desert combat boots.
Webb, 60, referred to Miller in a televised debate as “the anti-Christ of outsourcing,” claiming that Miller, as a lobbyist for a major Internet-industry organization, helped drive technology jobs overseas. Also, a Webb flier contained a caricature of Miller with a hooked nose and cash spilling from his pockets. Miller, who is Jewish, called the brochure “despicable”; Webb said it was not anti-Semitic.
Webb’s triumph was a victory for Senate Democratic leaders, many of whom either endorsed him or sent him campaign donations. Party strategists calculated that Webb gave them the only chance to mount a credible challenge to Allen in the fall, when Democrats hope to win six seats to gain control of the Senate.
Webb said support from Senate Democrats was key to his victory. “Everywhere I went, I had to face a room where people wondered if I really was a Democrat,” Webb said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
Miller put nearly $1 million of his own money into the campaign and outspent Webb by more than a 2-to-1 ratio.
In South Carolina, Republican Gov. Mark Sanford easily defeated a political newcomer for the nomination for another term. In the Democratic primary, state Sen. Tommy Moore and Florence Mayor Frank Willis were the heavyweights.
The state’s GOP primary for lieutenant governor was energized by news that incumbent Andre Bauer at least twice avoided speeding tickets — once after he was caught going more than 100 mph. Bauer’s chief opponent, Mike Campbell, is the son of Carroll Campbell, a popular former governor.
In Maine, two little-known Democrats competed for the chance to take on two-term Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe. Snowe had no GOP challenger.
Maine had a three-way Republican primary for governor. On the Democratic side, Gov. John Baldacci easily prevailed against a little-known computer specialist.
In Arkansas, a runoff was held to determine the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. The winner faces Republican state Sen. Jim Holt this fall.
In North Dakota, voters considered two proposed constitutional amendments — one that would remove gender, age and residency references in the constitution’s definition of state militia, the other to give the Legislature more authority to regulate how corporate shareholders vote for boards of directors.