George Allen, a dull man who incessantly uses football metaphors, was considered unbeatable a few years ago. Now the mythical conventional wisdom makers have decided that it's a race. The primary on the Dem side is quite interesting, as it's showing that aside from the moderate-liberal fight in the party, there's also a populist-insider fight. James Webb, a former Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, is fighting with Harris Miller, a tech lobbyist, for the Democratic nomination. The Washington Post's Robert Barnes has a nice article about the race:
The 60-year-old former Marine has a complicated résumé for die-hard Democratic voters to sort through: Republican Capitol Hill staffer; Reagan administration official; supporter of Robb against Oliver L. North in the Senate campaign of 1994; supporter of Allen against Robb in the Senate campaign of 2000. He has had kind words for those who fought for the Confederacy; unkind words for the Clinton administration, which he called "corrupt"; and now says that Allen has no accomplishments and that George W. Bush is no Ronald Reagan.
"I am like a huge percentage of people in this country, where I've had trouble with both political parties over the years," he said. "But when you look at the future . . . in my view, the answers to the problems in America come from the traditions of the Democratic Party."
Webb, who lives in Falls Church, took his time before deciding to join the race, egged on by a "Draft Webb" Web site on which followers post rhapsodic reviews of Webb's military expertise and leadership potential.
While Webb was making up his mind, Miller jumped in, and the result is an interesting (for political junkies) split among the consultant class that has helped produce Virginia's last two Democratic statewide victories.
Former governor Mark R. Warner took a break from his own potential presidential wanderings to attend a fundraiser for Miller on Tuesday night; aides say that Warner agreed to attend when Miller, of Fairfax County, was the only Democrat in the race and that his presence is not an endorsement. Miller's team is led by consultant Mo Elleithee, who has worked for both Warner and Kaine, and his pollster is Geoffrey Garin, who polled for Warner.
Webb has enlisted Steve Jarding and David "Mudcat" Saunders, who made their names as the architects of the rural-urban strategy that got Warner elected in 2001, and his pollster is Peter Brodnitz, whom Kaine counted on to take the public's pulse last year.
Miller's supporters describe him as being in the moderate mold of Warner; more than one Democrat has said Webb's candidacy is more intriguing but is "high-risk, high-reward." For his part, Kaine says he's glad that Democrats have enough candidates willing to take on the uphill battle against Allen to make a primary.
I met Mark Warner briefly once, and I really couldn't distinguish him from any other political candidate. It was at what he calls a 'Happy Hour with a Purpose', a townhall-style event that takes place in a bar and without as much speechifying as a normal political event. He gets credit for understanding that what is exciting about politics is not the speeches, but the social interactions and sense of comraderie that emerges from public discourse. That this race is taking place in Virginia, and that he is involved here, is quite interesting.
I don't know that much about Webb or Miller, so these are just impressions. Miller strikes me as a Kaine-type centrist - the guy was a lobbyist after all. He seems to be running on competence. Webb by contrast is kind of an old school Southern populist who is seeking to bring working class votes back into the Democratic Party with an attack on economic and political elites. I read his Born Fighting book a few years ago, and I enjoyed it.
The whole dynamic here is strange and interesting, and I'm curious to see where it goes.