Heavyweights join Va. Senate campaign

/ Source: The Associated Press

No longer consumed with presidential aspirations, former Gov. Mark Warner is throwing his energy into campaigning for Senate candidate Jim Webb, a fellow Democrat.

Meanwhile, Sen. John Warner appeared on television with Republican George Allen, who is hoping to keep Webb from taking his seat. The Warners - unrelated - are Virginia's most popular politicians.

Mark Warner, who surprised political observers last week by saying he would not run for president, campaigned Monday with Webb at a retirement village in suburban Washington and said many more joint appearances are forthcoming.

"I'll have a little more time now to campaign with him," Mark Warner said, referring to his aborted presidential bid. "I'm going to put all my energy behind this effort."

In particular, Mark Warner said he would campaign with Webb in southern Virginia, where Warner has worked for years to build credibility with conservative voters.

Mark Warner left office in January with approval ratings above 70 percent. Perhaps the only Virginia politician who rivals Mark Warner's popularity is Republican John Warner, who won re-election to the Senate in 2002 with 83 percent of the vote.

Race neck and neck
A recent Washington Post poll found that 49 percent of voters favor Allen, to 47 percent for Webb.

Allen for the second time in his campaign bought a two-minute block at 7:58 p.m. Monday in all of Virginia's media markets - this time for a taped appearance with John Warner. Two weeks ago, Allen paid about $50,000 to simulcast a similar ad statewide.

Allen campaign spokesman Dick Wadhams said the two senators "have worked closely together on a number of issues of concern to Virginians," and will highlight their work in the ad.

Still, Webb on Monday called John Warner a friend and said he believes his positions hold more in common with John Warner's than Allen's.

Webb noted that John Warner recently offered a sober assessment of the situation in Iraq and said the Bush administration may need to consider a "change of course" if the Iraqi government cannot stabilize the situation in the next few months. Webb has consistently criticized Bush's decision to invade Iraq and his handling of the war and subsequent occupation.

Webb also cited John Warner's support for embryonic stem-cell research, which Allen has opposed.

But Allen's spokesman noted that John Warner and Allen recently have staked out similar positions on Iraq.

"George Allen made it clear that he and Sen. Warner absolutely agree on Iraq," Wadhams said.

Webb and Mark Warner fielded questions Monday at a town hall forum in Greenspring Village, a well-heeled retirement community of nearly 2,000 near Springfield that is its own voting precinct and routinely has among the highest voter turnout in the state. Last year, Democrat Tim Kaine carried the precinct by about 20 points, similar to his margin of victory in the rest of Fairfax County.

Politics of Iraq
Most of the questions from the audience of nearly 300 were about Iraq. When one resident asked whether Webb would vote to impeach Bush, Webb responded that he would do "everything in my power to bring accountability to what has happened on a variety of fronts in this administration." When the resident pointed out that Webb had not answered the question, Webb simply smiled in response.

Most, but not all, in attendance supported Webb. Suri Khanna, 70, a native of India, said he prefers Allen in part because of his support of the Indian-American community on such issues as visas for high-tech workers. He described as overblown the "macaca" incident, in which Allen used what is sometimes regarded as an ethnic slur against a Webb campaign staffer of Indian descent.