Virginia's two most popular politicians jumped full-bore into the state's Senate campaign Monday, with former Gov. Mark Warner promising to do all he can to get Democrat Jim Webb elected and U.S. Sen. John Warner making a joint televised appearance with Republican Sen. George Allen.
Mark Warner, who surprised political observers Friday by forgoing an anticipated run for the presidency, campaigned Monday with Webb at a Fairfax County retirement village and said many more joint appearances are forthcoming.
"I'll have a little more time now to campaign with him," Mark Warner said, referring to his aborted presidential bid. "I'm going to put all my energy behind this effort."
In particular, Mark Warner said he would campaign with fellow Democrat Webb in southside and southwest Virginia — two parts of the state where Warner has worked for years to build up credibility with conservative voters there.
Mark Warner left office in January with approval ratings above 70 percent. Perhaps the only Virginia politician who rivals Mark Warner's popularity is Republican John Warner, who won re-election in 2002 with 83 percent of the vote.
Allen for the second time in his campaign purchased a two-minute block at 7:58 p.m. Monday in all of Virginia's media markets — this time for a taped joint appearance with John Warner.
Still, Webb on Monday called John Warner a friend and said he believes his positions hold more in common with John Warner than Allen's.
Webb noted that John Warner recently offered a sober assessment of the situation in Iraq and said the Bush administration may need to consider a "change of course" if the Iraqi government cannot stabilize the situation in the next few months. Webb has consistently criticized Bush's to invade Iraq and his handling of the war and subsequent occupation.
Webb also cited John Warner's support for embryonic stem-cell research, which Allen has opposed.
"It seems like Senator Warner's positions are actually closer to Jim Webb than to George Allen," Mark Warner told reporters.
Allen's campaign did not immediately return calls Monday afternoon seeking comment.
Webb and Mark Warner fielded questions Monday at a town hall forum in Greenspring Village, a well-heeled retirement community of nearly 2,000 that is its own voting precinct and routinely has among the highest voter turnout in the state. Last year, Democrat Tim Kaine carried the precinct by about 20 points, similar to his margin of victory in the rest of Fairfax County.
Most of the questions from the audience of nearly 300 were about Iraq. When one resident asked if Webb would impeach Bush, Webb responded that he would do "everything in my power to bring accountability to what has happened on a variety of fronts in this administration." When the resident pointed out that Webb did not answer the question, Webb simply smiled in response.
Most but not all in attendance were supportive of Webb. Suri Khanna, 70, a native of India, said before the event that he supports Allen in part because of his support to the Indian-American community on issues like visas for high-tech workers. He described as overblown the "macaca" incident, in which Allen used what is sometimes regarded as an ethnic slur against a Webb campaign staffer of Indian descent.
After Monday's forum. Khanna said he heard nothing from Webb to change his mind.
"On Iraq, Webb wants to do exactly what Bush is doing," Khanna said, referring to Webb's reluctance to immediately pull troops out of Iraq.
Recent polls show the contest between Webb and Allen in a virtual dead heat.