NEWS- After Macaca: Webb needs more than that to win
The adage in the world of sports is that sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. Jim Webb could argue that the same might be said of politics.
The Democratic Party Senate nominee entered the month of August trailing incumbent Republican Sen. George Allen by a double-digit margin. Then came the rally in Southwest Virginia where Allen referred to a Webb campaign volunteer of Indian-American descent as "Macaca."
While running a successful election is about a lot of things–money, a competent staff, charisma– it's also about luck.
But "The free publicity and momentum that Webb has had recently are not going to last," says Quentin Kidd, a Christopher Newport University poli-sci professor. "Allen has the money and the resources to overcome this and regain momentum."
The next step for Webb, according to Matt Smyth, an analyst at the UVA Center for Politics, is translating his new place in the polls into a new place in the campaign fund-raising war.
As of June 30, according to data from the Federal Election Commission, Allen had raised $10.1 million for his Senate campaign to Webb's $1.1 million– and had $6.6 million cash on hand to Webb's $424,000.
"This might be what national Democratic Party leaders have been waiting for in terms of committing their resources to this race," Smyth says. "Right now, it seems like Webb has a window of opportunity– he's got something that puts the incumbent on the defensive, and if they can jump on it, then we might have a competitive race."
One of the key advantages for Allen is his ability to raise money. "The challenge for Webb is how he's going to be competitive with the millions and millions that Allen will be able to bring in," says University of Mary Washington professor Stephen Farnsworth.
Webb campaign spokesperson Kristian Denny Todd says the campaign is seeing some positive fund-raising fallout. "We may not have as much money as George Allen has or will have, but Jim will have enough money to go head to head with him in the fall on TV," Denny Todd says.
More important than the money race, though, is defining Webb and his stance on the issues of the day vis-à-vis Allen, she says, adding, "We always believed that the more Virginians heard about George Allen, the less they'd like him– and the more they heard about Jim Webb, the more they'd like him.
"Allen has run statewide twice– but he's yet to be tested. He goes around saying that Virginia knows him, but I don't think people really do know him," she says. "This is an opportunity for Virginians to get to know him. The other part is getting voters to know more about Jim Webb. And as the polls show, the more they know about him, the more they like him."
Albemarle County blogger and Democratic Party activist Waldo Jaquith thinks Webb is going to have to offer voters more in the way of specifics to be able to continue gaining in the polls.
"It seems pretty clear that the next thing Webb needs to do is something positive– not something attacking Allen, but something to demonstrate the idea 'Since you've seen evidence Allen isn't fit to lead, let me show you by example that I am,'" Jaquith says.
"I don't know what that would be– there are any number of policy proposals that he could put forward or areas in his background that he could highlight," Jaquith adds. "But he will have to fill that void, because while we've seen Allen falling in the polls, which has benefited Webb, Webb hasn't done anything to earn his rankings at the moment."
Kidd concurs and proposes one issue Webb could play up.
"The most effective way to capitalize on this is to turn the discussion toward Allen's support for the war," he says.
"This is the opportunity to really turn the momentum into his favor over the long term, rather than enjoying the headlines but not gaining anything lasting out of it.
"Bottom line– this comment isn't going to help Webb win. If Webb is going to win, he has to take Allen on the policies and the issues," Kidd says.