By Aaron Blake - 06/13/06 12:00 AM EDT
Democratic Senate candidate Harris Miller spent a lot of time this past weekend glad-handing at Northern Virginia Metro stations, just a few stops from both the place he is trying to get to and the place that is standing in his way — Capitol Hill.
Meanwhile, Miller’s Virginia primary opponent, Jim Webb, took the slate of Washington endorsements he has recently received from high-profile senators and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and made his final push for today’s Democratic primary farther south.
The race to take on incumbent Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) this November is shaping up to be a test of how much influence Washington has on local politics across the Potomac River.
Miller noted that he has previously spent a good deal more time outside of Northern Virginia than inside it, traveling dozens of times to places like Norfolk and Hampton Roads. But he said the votes around the Beltway will play big today.
“Clearly, a large percentage of the votes are going to come from Northern Virginia — probably a third or more,” said Miller, a businessman and lobbyist. “At the end of the day, there are a lot of voters up here.”
Webb, a war hero and author who was Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan and recently became an anti-war Democrat, has gathered endorsements from nine Democratic senators, including Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry (Mass.) and senior senators Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Carl Levin (Mich.). He also has the support of Rep. John Murtha (Pa.), 2004 presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark and three well-known former senators.
The rare, last-minute backing of DSCC Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) last week, though, topped it all off. The move is seen as an indication that Webb would receive more national attention and help than Miller would in the Democrats’ quest to unseat Allen.
Indeed, national Democrats aren’t saying Webb is the better candidate so much as that he is the candidate better able to defeat Allen. A Rasmussen poll from April shows Webb trailing Allen by 20 points, while an earlier Zogby poll showed him behind by seven. Webb was closer than Miller in both polls.
Primary endorsements from national committees are rare and potentially embarrassing, Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report said. Just last week, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) repeatedly lampooned its House Democratic counterpart for endorsing primary loser Steve Filson in California’s 11th District. Filson lost June 6 by nearly a 2-to-1 ratio.
The NRCC has also criticized the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) for its support of two other primary losers — Andrew Horne in Kentucky’s 3rd District and Joe Sulzer in Ohio’s 18th — though the DCCC says it remained neutral in both races. Sulzer finished third, and Horne did only slightly better than Filson.
Duffy said the decisionmakers at the DSCC “are sticking their neck out” for Webb.
“If you’re them, maybe it’s worth taking the gamble,” she said. “But if Webb is the nominee, they’re going to have to work with him a lot.”
Miller, on the other hand, received his biggest national endorsement from Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who offered it before Webb joined the race and said Webb would also be a “good alternative” to Allen.
Moran said that he is not heavily involved in Miller’s campaign and that he understands why national Democrats are pushing Webb.
“I think they’re looking at his r