Story by Chris Graham
The big news in Harrisonburg today wasn’t that former presidential hopeful Mark Warner was in town with Senate nominee Jim Webb.
It was that an event organized by Valley Democrats drew more than 400 people on a weekday afternoon.
“I said to Jim on the way in here, I’ve had an awful lot of political events in the Shenandoah Valley and Harrisonburg, and I cannot think of a crowd this size anytime in more than a decade,” said Warner, who toured Southwest and Western Virginia today with Webb.
Included in their tour was a stop at Court Square Theater in downtown Harrisonburg – which is not exactly what most political observers would consider Democrat-friendly territory.
But it was this afternoon – and the national media, including Fox News Channel, which broadcast live from downtown Harrisonburg, was on hand to see it for themselves.
“The entire country is watching this race,” said Webb, a former Republican who served as secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, who characterized his challenge to GOP incumbent George Allen as “very much a referendum on the Bush administration.”
“If you go back to when I started this campaign, there was actually one story that said if you took George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and put them in a blender, you would come up with George Allen,” Webb said. “My opponent was being viewed as the natural successor to George W. Bush. He has been with the president – well, Mark said 96 percent of the time, we’ve been saying 97 percent of the time, it’s tempting to say 98 percent of the time, and let him deny it. But he’s been with the president on almost every single issue.
“The people who are in this administration and in the leadership of the Republican Party know that a vote that will unseat George Allen is a vote that is bringing discredit to the failed leadership of this administration,” Webb said.
Warner, who announced earlier this month that he will not seek the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination, despite indications that he was one of the top two or three contenders for the party nod at this early stage in the nomination process, said Webb will serve as an “independent voice” in Washington.
“I can’t think of anything more important than making sure that we have a United States senator who will go to Washington and be the kind of independent voice – the kind of voice that if the president’s right, he’ll side with him, but if the president’s wrong, will have the courage to step up and say no, we want to take our country in a different direction. And that is Jim Webb,” Warner said.
Referring to recent polls that have the Webb-Allen race basically neck-and-neck, Warner promised that Virginia Democrats “are going to surprise some folks.”
“You remember five years ago, folks said, Well, you know, a Democrat can’t win statewide in Virginia anymore. And we proved them wrong. A year ago, people would say, Well, Warner, you somehow slipped in, but there’s no way Virginia’s going to vote for another Democratic governor. Well, we’ve got a great governor in Tim Kaine right now. At the beginning of this year, the press and the pundits said, Well, let’s look at where there might be competitive Senate races. No one thought Virginia would be on that list. Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen. The most recent polling data that came out, from the L.A. Times poll, that just came out yesterday, shows Jim Webb ahead,” Warner said.
“We’ve got 12 days – and you’re going to see stuff coming over the airwaves from the other side. You’re not going to believe what they’re going to say, what kind of mud they’re going to sling,” Warner said.
“It’s your job – particularly here in the Valley, particularly in Southside and Southwest – you’ve got to be the advocates. You’ve got to be willing to talk to your friends and your neighbors, the folks you work with, go to church with, go to school with, to make them realize what’s at stake. It’s our country. If we want to make sure that this country rises up and meets the challenges, we’ve got to do our part,” Warner said.