WASHINGTON – Virginia Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb on Sunday sided with fellow war veterans, Republican Sens. John Warner and John McCain and former secretary of State Colin Powell, on the prisoner interrogation issue that threatens to split the Republican Party.
His opponent, GOP Sen. George Allen, responded in a debate on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he has not decided whether to back President Bush's plan allowing tougher interrogation of prisoners of war or a plan by Warner, the Armed Services Committee chairman and Virginia's Republican senior senator.
The Iraq issue consumed more than half of the first televised debate in the Virginia Senate race, a closely watched contest that has become a mid-term election referendum on the president's handling of the war.
"I'm with Sen. Warner and Colin Powell," Webb told moderator Tim Russert.
Webb, a decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, took pains to stress his comradeship with fellow combat veterans leading the split within the Republican party over the issue of prisoner tribunals. Allen has no military experience and Bush served stateside in the National Guard during Vietnam.
"What you see here is a split between the theorists who have never been on a battlefield or never worn the uniform" and those who have, Webb said.
Allen, who last year voted with the White House 96 percent of the time, said he needs more facts before he makes up his mind. He said it's important to balance the necessity of protecting U.S. prisoners of war from torture while still giving U.S. intelligence operatives the ability to effectively question detained terrorists.
"I'm trying to be a bridge, a bridge between these two proposals," Allen said.