Can Webb bite into GOP advantage on vet vote?

The Top Story by Chris Graham

 

The conventional wisdom is that the military vote and veteran vote both tend to lean strongly in the Republican direction – but Democratic Party Senate nominee Jim Webb, a Vietnam War veteran and former Reagan administration Navy secretary, might just be able to turn the conventional wisdom on its head in his race against GOP incumbent George Allen.

“We think Jim’s experience and his early opposition to the war in Iraq will have some sway with military voters,” said Nelson Jones, the veterans-outreach coordinator for the Webb campaign.

“If 70 or 80 percent of the veterans have traditionally voted Republican, what I would be really happy with is if we could get 50 percent. That would really make me happy,” said Jones, like Webb a United States Naval Academy graduate and former Marine Corps officer.

That might be pushing it – but Quentin Kidd, a political-science professor at Christopher Newport University, thinks it is possible that Webb can at least make something of a dent in the expected Allen majority among military and veteran voters.

“And if he’s successful in drawing over even a few percentage points to his side, then I think he’s successful at whatever he’s trying to do,” Kidd said.

“If this election is going to be close, and the two or three percentage points that proves to be the winning margin is the veteran vote or military vote, imagine the ripple effect and power of that around the country – if veterans and active-duty military people swing an election away from a Republican. That would really be powerful,” Kidd told The Augusta Free Press.

It is looking right now like the election could come down to a few percentage points one way or the other. A Wall Street Journal/Zogby poll released last week actually had Webb in the lead by seven points, though polls released last week by Mason-Dixon and Survey USA had Allen in the lead by four and three points, respectively.

Because the race is so tight, and because issues involving the war in Iraq are at the forefront of the discussion in the Senate race in Virginia and at the forefront of the discussion in other congressional races this year, one can expect that there will be plenty of attention on military and veterans issues through Election Day.

“There’s just no comparing George Allen – who never served and doesn’t have a whole lot of experience with foreign policy and with use of military force with respect to foreign policy – to Jim Webb,” Jones said.

“Nobody in Congress, if you look at it, has the kind of experience that Webb would bring not just to the Senate, but to the whole United States Congress. I would hope the voters would look and say, OK, this guy knows what he’s talking about. And what he said would happen in Iraq has in fact happened,” Jones told the AFP.

The Allen campaign has its own veterans-outreach effort – headed up by Paul Galanti, a prisoner of war in Vietnam who served as the Virginia campaign co-chair for fellow Vietnam POW John McCain’s bid for the Republican Party presidential nomination in 2000 and in 2004 appeared in a television ad paid for by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group that targeted Democratic Party presidential nominee and Vietnam vet John Kerry.

“I like Jim Webb – but his credentials, looking at them objectively, he was a Marine lieutenant, highly decorated, but I don’t see where he has better qualifications than that to be a senator. If we were electing a commandant of the Marine Corps, Jim Webb would get my vote in a heartbeat. But frankly, he doesn’t have nearly the qualifications to be a U.S. senator that George Allen does. And I think most Virginians would go along with that,” Galanti told the AFP.

Galanti’s Veterans for Allen group, like the effort of Jones on the Webb-campaign side, is reaching out to military and veteran voters through contacts made with service organizations and lists generated through campaign Web sites.

An outside group is involving itself in the race in a manner reminiscent of the involvement of the Swift Boat group in ’04. Last week, the group votevets.org released a TV spot attacking Allen for a vote against a 2003 Democratic floor amendment that it said would have provided money for body armor for members of the National Guard and Reserves serving on the front lines in Iraq.

“I was in Baghdad – and we didn’t have the right equipment. And we didn’t have the right equipment for months in Iraq. We didn’t have the proper body armor at least into the next year. This was the first accountable vote that Sen. George Allen had to actually help the men and women that he voted to send to war – and he voted no,” said Jon Soltz, the chairman of votevets.org and a reservist who served with the 1st Armored Division in Iraq in 2003, in a conference call with reporters.

“When the troops needed George Allen, he voted against us. He failed us. And our ad sheds light to the shameful vote and urges Virginians to vote against him, just like he voted against the troops when we were in combat,” Soltz said.

The Allen campaign disputed the claims in the votevets.org ad – noting the senator’s support for several bills providing money for armored vehicles and body armor – before launching something of a counteroffensive in the form of a news conference that it helped organize that featured five female graduates of the Naval Academy going after Webb for a 1979 article in which he wrote critically of the role of women in the military.

“As long as this race remains as close as it is right now, we’re going to see more of this kind of activity,” Kidd said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see some pieces out that talk about whether Allen ever actually was in the service, for example. It depends on how dirty it gets – but if it starts getting personal, I could see somebody hammering home on that point, and I would expect the Allen campaign to respond in kind,” Kidd said.

 

(Published 09-18-06)

 

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