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Va. Senate: Former Reagan Aide to Run as Dem

The entrance of former Navy secretary James Webb (D) into the Virginia Senate race is sure to raise the contest's national profile, although Sen. George Allen (R) remains a strong favorite for reelection this fall.

Webb, President Reagan's top civilian appointee at the Navy from 1987-88, was rumored to be considering a bid for months. An effort to draft Webb into the contest was organized via the Web at www.draftjameswebb.com.

Webb confirmed he would run to the Post's Michael Shear earlier this week. "I don't wake up every morning wanting to be a U.S. senator," Webb said. "I wake up every morning very concerned about the country."

While Webb brings a considerable resume to the race -- a heavily decorated Marine in Vietnam as well as the author of several works of popular fiction -- he does not have the Democratic field to himself. Harris Miller, the former head of a technology industry trade association, is already in the race.

The primary, which is set for June 13, pits two wings of former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner's (D) political operation against one another. On Webb's side is Steve Jarding -- the political consultant credited with engineering Warner's success in rural areas of Virginia in 2001. On Miller's side is much of the rest of the Warner team, including his pollster -- Garin Hart Yang.

While Webb would make an intriguing general election candidate due to his national profile and military background, his past ties to Republicans could hamstring his attempt to win the nomination. In addition to working under Reagan in the late 1980s, Webb also endorsed Allen over then-Sen. Chuck Robb (D) during the 2000 Senate race. Six years earlier, Webb had broken with Republicans by refusing to back the Senate candidacy of retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North (R), who was running against Robb.

Allen does not appear to be particularly vulnerable at the moment. Prior to being elected to the Senate in 2000, he served as the commonwealth's governor and also served a short stint in the U.S. House representing a central Virginia congressional district. Allen is also sitting on more than $6 million in his Senate campaign account, assuring that he will have little trouble funding a statewide campaign.

Regardless of whether Webb or Miller is the Democratic nominee, Allen is the favorite. But the very fact that he may need to devote considerable time and resources to his reelection race complicates his ability to use the 2006 campaign as a springboard to a 2008 presidential bid. Anticipating an easy reelection race, Allen dispatched top campaign aide Jason Miller last fall to the crucial early primary state of South Carolina to aid the reelection effort of Palmetto State Gov. Mark Sanford (R). Would he have made that decision if he knew Webb was going to get into the race?

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 9, 2006; 12:48 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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