The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Webb defeats Miller; A1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

Virginia voters on Tuesday selected former Reagan administration Secretary of the Navy James H. Webb as the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate by some 7 percentage points.

He advances to face incumbent Republican Sen. George Allen in November.

Webb, a native of Gate City, defeated the better-financed campaign of former technology lobbyist Harris N. Miller of Fairfax County, 54 percent to 46 percent, with 96.8 percent of precincts reporting.

Votes streamed into the Virginia State Board of Elections shortly after the polls closed at 7 p.m., and the advantage shifted back and forth from minute to minute as cities and counties reported their tallies.

But by 8:30 p.m., it was obvious there weren’t enough precincts left in the right places for Miller to overcome the 8,900-vote lead Webb built up in the urban crescent — Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads.

Webb, a former Republican, came under attack from Miller supporters late in the campaign over whether he is a genuine Democrat.

Webb’s camp worked hard in the last hours of the campaign to overcome Miller’s charges he was “un-Democratic,” calling in Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., for an election-eve rally.

Miller hammered Webb repeatedly on the charge, sending out mailers asking voters which candidate “can Democrats count on,” and pointing out Webb’s association with Reagan and his past criticisms of President Clinton.

However, it was endorsements from established Democrats that helped Webb carry the day, the candidate said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“Everywhere I went, I had to face a room where people wondered if I really was a Democrat,” he said. “When these people stepped forward to endorse, they were saying they were comfortable with my values.”

Miller conceded defeat, and said in a written statement that he’d back Webb in the general election.

“Because at the end of the day, while Jim and I may disagree on some things, we absolutely agree on this — it’s time to bring real change to Washington, and that change MUST begin with replacing George Allen in the United States Senate,” Miller said.

Miller was first to the field, announcing his candidacy early and building a substantial fundraising lead. The candidate gave almost $1 million of his own money to the effort, including a six-figure contribution in the closing days of the campaign.

As of the final Federal Election Commission reporting period in May, Miller had raised more than $1.2 million, compared to Webb’s $548,000.

While Webb’s campaign might have been outgunned in the wallet, it did have one asset that Miller didn’t — the strong support of an enthusiastic Internet following.

Democratic Internet activists, including a significant number who supported Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s successful election bid, launched a “Draft James Webb” effort in late 2005.

In the Northern Shenandoah Valley, the few voters who showed up left no doubt about who they wanted to see face Allen in November. Webb carried four localities by at least 10 percent, and two — Shenandoah and Clarke counties — by more than 30 percent.

Only Warren County, the farthest east of the five localities, seemed to have trouble making up its mind. Webb carried the county by four votes, or less than 1 percent.

Neither candidate made the reliably Republican Northern Shenandoah Valley a big part of their campaign. Webb made one early morning visit to Winchester, while Miller dropped in on the area’s largest city twice.

Valley turnout was low, lower even than the statewide total of about 3.5 percent.
Clarke County set the bar, with 3.27 percent of voters casting a ballot. Only 1.42 percent of Frederick County’s registered voters cast a ballot. No locality saw more than 600 total ballots cast.