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Webb, Allen Vie to Win Key Virginia Senate Race


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.



And I'm Michele Norris.

It's election eve and candidates in tight contests across the country are racing around their states or their districts trying to rally support and get out the vote. We're going to talk about some of the latest polls with two of our political analysts in just a moment, but first to Virginia and one of the most closely watched races, one that could decide which party controls the Senate.

BLOCK: It's the race between Republican Senator George Allen and Democrat James Webb. Allen began the day campaigning in the suburbs of northern Virginia, now considered a Democratic stronghold, while Webb went deep into heavily military and traditionally Republican territory in southern Virginia.

NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: It was not yet 7:30 a.m. this morning when Senator George Allen showed up in Vienna, Virginia, at the beginning of the subway line that takes commuters into Washington, D.C.


(Soundbite of crowd)

WELNA: Supporters waived Allen signs on sticks as the candidate waded into a scrum of reporters and onlookers outside the station. He said he felt both invigorated and encouraged by a new independent poll showing him three points ahead of challenger Jim Webb.

Senator GEORGE ALLEN (Republican, Virginia): Well, it's a close race. The world's controlled by those who show up. I've told all of y'all here, Mark Twain used to say thunder's aggressive but it's lightning that does the work, and these folks here are the lightning. I think the voters need to turn out.

WELNA: But as has happened throughout Allen's campaign, some hecklers had turned out today to taunt him about his support for the war in Iraq.

Unidentified Man: Hey, the soldiers hate you. Do you know that? Do you know that the troops hate you?

Unidentified Woman: Could you explain -

Senator ALLEN: I'm proud to have the support of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and all of the major veterans' organizations. My opponent's point of view is that we ought to be retreating and surrendering from Iraq.

WELNA: Almost all the questions for Allen were about Iraq. Asked about an editorial today in the Army Times calling for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's removal, Allen was noncommittal.

Senator ALLEN: That's up to the president. I do think our tactics and our operations need to be adapted and adjusted to meet the evolving threat regardless of who's in the Cabinet.

WELNA: Allen then jumped into a Ford Explorer. A supporter named Alex Dwasier(ph) watched as the senator sped off.

Mr. ALEX DWASIER: I've known George Allen since he's been in the state legislature. He's helped on education issues, helped on crime, helped on taxes. He's the senator for Virginia, and I'm looking forward to a great day tomorrow.

WELNA: A few hours later, about 200 miles to the south in Norfolk, a crowd in a packed hotel ballroom greeted Allen's rival, Jim Webb.

(Sound of chanting crowd)

WELNA: Looking as if he couldn't wait for the campaign to end, Webb told the crowd of another independent poll just out that has him running eight percentage points ahead of Allen.

Mr. JAMES WEBB (Democratic Senatorial Candidate, Virginia): And I have this feeling, I have this feeling, on Wednesday morning the White House is going to wake up and look over to the Capitol Building and say we've got a problem.

WELNA: Asked whether he agreed with the military newspaper's demand for Rumsfeld's removal, Webb demurred.

Mr. WEBB: You know he's a presidential appointee, although I'm going to tell you something. That is really an incredible statement when the Service Times make that kind of a comment. I mean, I've been around the military all my life and it's highly unusual for the Service Times to editorialize in that way.

WELNA: Jose Ramirez, a retired naval chief petty officer who came to the rally, predicted Webb will get a lot of votes in this naval port.

Mr. JOSE RAMIREZ: A lot of military here, especially with the Navy, like a person that's served in the military and didn't hide behind his father's skirts and didn't do nothing, you know?

WELNA: Webb today continued wearing the combat boots of his son, who's serving in Iraq. He said they'll come off tomorrow, once the results of this tight race are in.

David Welna, NPR News, Norfolk, Virginia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.