HARRISONBURG, Va. – Republican Sen. George Allen said Friday the sexually graphic fiction of Democratic challenger Jim Webb is demeaning to women and fair game for criticism in their bruising campaign.
Webb, author of six novels centered around war and particularly the slaughter and depravity he witnessed as a Marine in Vietnam's bloodiest battles, defended the fictional scenes as things countless American combat troops have seen.
Allen's campaign thrust selective, sexually explicit passages from Webb's novels into Virginia's close and potentially pivotal race as the GOP struggles to hang onto its Senate majority in the Nov. 7 election.
Following a rally for supporters of the statewide ballot issue that would write a ban on same-sex marriages into the Virginia Constitution, Allen told reporters that parts of Webb's books are "demeaning" in their portrayal of women.
"My opponent hasn't been in public office but he talks about the books he's written and his creative writing and his novels," Allen said. "Those are some of his writings. That's an open book so people can make that judgment."
Asked if he had read any of the Webb novels, Allen was evasive. "From those excerpts I read, they certainly are demeaning to women," he said.
Earlier Friday, Webb reacted angrily when the host of a program on Washington Post Radio, a sister station of WTOP, raised the issue of sexually explicit passages, including one about a stripper and a banana that the broadcaster read on the air.
"I don't think that's appropriate for you to read on WTOP," said Webb, who went on to defend the excerpt from his novel "Something to Die For."
"There are hundreds of thousands of American servicemen who have been in that environment," Webb said. "It's an observation about how the human species lives."
Webb said Democratic strategist James Carville warned him long ago that his opponents would pull a few racy passages from the more than two million words he has written and try to use them against him.
"He said, `You're a writer. You're an opposition researcher's dream,"' said Webb, who called Allen's campaign one of "smear after smear."
He also rejected the Allen campaign's claim that his novels consistently portray women as servile, inept and promiscuous.
"You ought to read what George Allen's sister wrote about him if you want to read about attitudes toward females," Webb said.
Jennifer Allen's 2000 autobiographical account told of growing up in a rough-and-tumble household headed by the late George H. Allen, the football-obsessed, workaholic Hall of Fame coach of the NFL's Washington Redskins and Los Angeles Rams.
In her book, she portrayed the future senator, the oldest of her three brothers, as a sometimes crude and brutish high school student who once dragged her up the stairs of their California home by her hair.
At the Harrionburg rally, Allen did not specifically mention the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling this week that gay couples deserve the same rights as heterosexual couples, but said judges are threatening America's "fundamental values." "Judges are trying to redefine the institution of marriage," he said as those in the crowd cheered and shouted "Amen."
A Harrisonburg man who lost his job at an agricultural products plant Oct. 5 because he posted a pro-amendment sign on his truck was heralded as the new face of the campaign.
"God founded marriage to be between a man and a woman," said Luis Padilla, a 40-year-old Honduran immigrant. He was reinstated this week and will be reimbursed for his time off work.
Dozens of protesters lined the sidewalk in front of the county courthouse where Allen and others spoke, many mocking the views of those gathered for the rally.
"Racism is no longer politically correct, so now we're focusing on homosexuals," said Eric La Freniere.
In another campaign development, Webb was endorsed Friday by The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, which praised his intellect and character.
"Very little that is canned or formulaic makes its way into Webb's speeches or conversation," the newspaper wrote. "For better and occasionally worse, his answers appear to have been concocted in his own head, not during some poll-driven strategy session in Washington, D.C."
The newspaper said Webb's refusal to boast about his heroism as a Marine in the Vietnam War and his 24-year-old son's current military service in Iraq reflect well on his character.