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A Proxy Fight in Virginia

Webb Works to Oust Democratic Allen Fan

Correction Appended

Virginia’s hotly contested race between now-Sen. Jim Webb (D) and then-Sen. George Allen (R) may have ended in November, but a proxy battle of sorts is raging on in a state Senate primary that will be decided next month. And Webb, whose campaign slogan was “Born Fighting,” seems only too happy to carry on the fight.

Reverberations from the 2006 contest — in which Webb narrowly defeated Allen — echo loudly in the heavily black Richmond-area district, where longtime state Sen. Benjamin Lambert III is being challenged in the June 12 Democratic primary by state Del. Donald McEachin.

Lambert, 70, drew the ire of many fellow Democrats when he publicly threw his support to Allen last year — a move that earned the 30-year legislator a host of unflattering monikers including “Benedict Lambert.”

Now, McEachin’s campaign is centered around his opponent’s disloyalty to the Democrats in the Senate race, and fundraising reports filed last month show that Webb was his biggest donor.

As of March 31, McEachin had raised just $5,100 for his bid, in addition to the $47,500 he transferred over from his House re-election account. Almost half of that total came in the form of a $2,300 donation from Webb’s political action committee, Born Fighting PAC, on March 23.

Also donating $200 to McEachin on March 30 was Phillip Thompson, the Webb aide who was arrested and charged with unlawful gun possession on the Capitol grounds in late March.

In a brief interview Wednesday, Webb said he planned to do more to help McEachin, including hosting a Northern Virginia fundraiser next week. Tickets for the May 14 fundraiser in Oakton featuring Webb range from $250 to $2,300.

“He’s a terrific guy. He’s a terrific candidate,” Webb said. “He’s got a long future in Virginia politics.”

Lambert, meanwhile, has raised almost $96,000 for the race — in addition to a $100,000 personal loan — much of it in contributions greater than $100 from business groups and also from individuals who gave to Allen previously and have a history of supporting the GOP.

Lambert had received at least $4,250 from Allen donors since mid-December, according to fundraising records made available through the Virginia Public Access Project.

Rumblings about McEachin’s likely challenge to Lambert began shortly after Allen’s defeat in November, and he formally entered the race in late March.

A poll done for McEachin’s campaign in early March showed Lambert in serious trouble.

McEachin led 52 percent to 28 percent, and a polling memo accompanying the survey attributed the large disparity to Lambert’s support for Allen.

The poll was conducted by Pete Brodnitz of the Benenson Strategy Group, the same pollster who worked for Webb in 2006 and for now-Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) in 2005.

“It is rare to see an incumbent losing before the campaign has even begun, especially by such a wide margin,” the memo stated.

Lambert, who sits on the Sallie Mae Corp. board, was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1977 and has served in the state Senate since 1986. He also sits on the board of Richmond-based Dominion Resources Inc., the energy conglomerate on which Allen’s wife, Susan, served from April 2003 to January 2005.

Lambert announced his support for Allen in mid-September 2006, after the incumbent’s now infamous “macaca” incident and as Allen was battling charges of long-running racial insensitivity.

“Because we have worked well together over the years on many issues, and especially because you have delivered on your promises to support Virginia’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, I am pleased to support you in your re-election to the U.S. Senate,” Lambert wrote in a letter announcing his support of Allen. “I hope to be working with you in Washington long after November to continue fighting on behalf of all educational institutions for higher education.”

Lambert and most other black Democratic leaders in the state had backed Webb’s opponent in the June Democratic primary, and were critical of the former Navy secretary’s past writings on affirmative action.

McEachin, however, was one of the few black state legislators who backed Webb in the primary.

McEachin, 45, was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for state attorney general in 2001, the same year that Mark Warner became Virginia’s first Democratic governor in almost a decade and Kaine was elected lieutenant governor.

He ran and regained his seat in the General Assembly in 2005. He was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1995.

The Henrico, Richmond and Charles City area Senate seat is heavily Democratic, and the candidate who wins the June 12 primary is all but assured of victory in November.

Correction: May 11
The May 10 article “A Proxy Fight in Virginia” incorrectly reported that Phillip Thompson, an aide to Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), had contributed to state Del. Donald McEachin.

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