All Eyes On Virginia for Composition of New Senate
BERKELEY - In the pivotal Virginia Senate race that will determine which political party controls the Senate, James Webb on Tuesday led Senator George Allen by a scant seven thousand votes.
"The votes are in," Webb said at his election night victory party. "And we won."
Though he never struck the death blow to Allen’s campaign for re-election by attacking Allen, Webb’s low-key persistence and authenticity appealed to many Virginians, said Toni-Michelle Travis, Associate Professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University.
Webb also had an advantage in Virginia, Travis said, because of his military background.
“We have always sent people to war from Virginia,” said Travis. The state is home to a naval station in Norfolk and many Pentagon employees retire to Virginia, Travis said.
Webb, a decorated Vietnam veteran and weapons expert who opposes the Iraq War, was decorated for service in Vietnam. His rough and ready background made him a perfect candidate to go up against the effusive and confident Allen, and played counterpoint to Webb’s actual understated demeanor.
Allen, whose father was famed football coach George Allen Sr. seemed to use his sports background as a substitute for war service toward the end of the campaign by repeatedly invoking his football legacy.
“Right now, Allen is walking around throwing footballs, trying to emphasize his father’s connection to athletics,” Travis said the day before the election.
Politically, Virginia is a state divided between North and South. Southern Virginians tend to vote conservative. Northern Virginia, according to Travis, is an entirely different world. “People in Richmond tend to think of northern Virginia as occupied territory,” Travis said, referring to the larger percentage of immigrants in the north, liberal viewpoints, and the general diversity of the area.
During the campaign, Allen was largely responsible for his own decline in the polls. While comfortably ensconced in southern Virginia this summer, standing amidst white voters, Allen voiced a racial epithet, macaca, to a young East Indian man in his audience who worked for Webb. “Welcome to America,” Allen told the long-time Virgina resident and US citizen, in a statement that seemed a play to anti-immigration sentiments.
“Allen was playing to the ‘real Virginians,’” Travis said. “Southern Virginians think you’re not a real Virginian if you live in the north. They think we don’t have the right values or attitudes.”
It is northern Virginia’s diversity, combined with Virginia’s respect for military history both north and south, that has resulted in the close Senate race.
But Travis suggested there may be another factor.
While many conservative voters believed that the Marshall/Newman amendment, which changes the Virginia constitution to read that only a union between one man and one woman may be considered a valid marriage in the state, would bring conservative voters to the polls, it was assumed that those same voters would then choose Allen.
Travis postulates a different possibility, one that seems to explain some of Webb’s impending success and Virginia’s support of the marriage amendment.
“(African-American) voters will go to the polls and vote for the marriage amendment. Then they’ll turn around and vote for Webb,” Travis said.
The much-coveted African American vote, which accounts for 14% of Virginia’s voting populace, was being actively courted in the final months of the campaign. Allen had gathered a team of 15 African American clergymen to help him clean up his image following the macaca debacle. Webb was seen with Richmond Mayor and former governor L. Douglas Wilder, and made the rounds in Virginia with Barack Obama.
The election results show that Travis may be right. Virginians resoundingly accepted the marriage amendment. And Webb, coming from behind, may well be the new Senator of Virginia.
While Webb has a clear lead and has already announced he will be forming a transition team, the race is so close that observers expect there will be a recount. That could not take place until after Nov. 27, when the Virginia Board of Election is expected to certify the election.