LEESBURG, Va. – Republican Sen. George Allen on Wednesday refused to denounce his supporters' manhandling a liberal blogger a day earlier and accused his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, of provoking the videotaped incident.
The clash lingered as both candidates entered the final week of their bitter and sometimes bizarre campaign, one of a few whose outcome will determine whether the GOP retains its U.S. Senate majority.
The most recent polls show the campaign very close. One showed Webb with a thin lead while another showed Allen slightly ahead. Others have been within the margin of error.
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Webb, campaigning in Richmond with Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, said he knew nothing of Tuesday's attack in which men wearing blue Allen lapel stickers put University of Virginia law student W. Michael Stark in a chokehold and slammed him to the floor after an Allen rally at a Charlottesville hotel.
"I don't even know what happened yesterday. I don't even know this individual. But I certainly regret the conduct of certain people there yesterday," Webb said.
Allen had just finished a rally with Sen. Elizabeth H. Dole, R-N.C., and they were walking toward a hotel lobby then Stark, 38, approached Allen and asked if he had ever spit on his first wife.
An Allen aide blocked Stark's path and three other men hustled Stark backward and slung him to the carpet near a hotel exit as television cameras recorded the incident.
Video of the incident played through Tuesday and Wednesday on the Internet and on cable news networks, posing a late-campaign distraction for Allen just as he was trying to make his final push to the Nov. 7 election.
Stark also had asked Allen about two 1974 entries on an Albemarle County court warrant book that Allen attributes to fishing without a license and unpaid parking tickets when he was a University of Virginia student. Democrats suggested they were for more serious reasons. Documents corresponding to the entries were destroyed long ago.
George W. Bailey, Albemarle's sheriff from 1970 to 1987, said in a statement Allen's campaign released Wednesday that Allen, well-known because he was a Virginia football player, never was involved in any serious offense.
"It would have crossed my desk, and would not have escaped my notice," Bailey said.
Campaigning with fellow Virginia Republican Sen. John W. Warner in Loudoun County, Allen was asked if he regretted the conduct of his supporters. He put the blame on Webb.
"It was typical of the Webb campaign, wanting to provoke an incident," Allen said. He said Dole and others may have felt threatened by Stark's activities."
Dole, chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, issued a statement of her own, also portraying Allen as the victim and demanding an apology from Webb and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Webb campaign consultant Steve Jarding dismissed Dole's demand as "offensive."
Stark had signaled his intent to provoke Allen on two left-of-center blogs beforehand. On the liberal Daily Kos blog, he noted his involvement in stunts intended to embarrass Republicans. "Recently I've been thinking about how to put these `guerrilla tactics' to use where it matters: winning elections," he wrote.
Stark filed a criminal complaint Tuesday with police in Charlottesville, but said he did not know the names of his attackers.
At a tree farm in Loudoun County, a Washington exurb that is among the nation's fastest-growing communities, Allen and Warner campaigned on the issue of taxes, particularly the estate tax, levied posthumously on the property of the wealthy.
Allen, who wants the tax permanently repealed, said it abets overdevelopment and congestion because landowners feel pressure to sell to developers rather than pass the land to their heirs and pay a hefty tax.
Allen and Webb both criticized comments Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, made about the Iraq war. During a Monday campaign stop in California, Kerry warned students that if they don't do well in college they might get "stuck in Iraq." Kerry apologized, saying he botched a joke intended to poke President Bush over his handling of the war.
"It was just deplorable for John Kerry to make those comments," Allen said.
Webb, whose son, Jimmy, is a Marine on combat duty in Iraq, said if Kerry intended it as a joke, it fell flat.
"There are a lot of really, really fine and educated people in the United States military," Webb said in Salem. "My son is an example. Had three years at Penn State."
Wilder, a fellow Democrat who is the nation's first elected black governor, said Kerry's comments do not speak for Democrats.
"John Kerry speaks for John Kerry," Wilder said. "He blew one election and we're not going to let him blow this one."