While I share some of the concerns expressed by Leon Hadar in his February View (“It’s the War, Stupid!”), his analysis of the 2006 election is short on facts, as when he says that Virginia Sen. James Webb’s victory over former Sen. George Allen could only be explained by Webb’s success in “accentuating a consistent and very aggressive antiwar agenda.”

Webb won for many reasons, including the increasing dominance of affluent liberals in Washington, D.C.’s fast-growing Northern Virginia suburbs, whose votes have elected two consecutive Democratic governors during campaigns that had nothing to do with issues of war and peace.

Having discussed the 2006 campaign with many Virginia conservatives, I can say that most agree that the Allen campaign was badly mismanaged.  In particular, after the much-publicized “macaca” incident, Allen’s handlers sent him out to grovel apologetically, a move that alienated many of the state’s conservative voters while placating none of Allen’s enemies.

Webb, by contrast, never apologized for anything, nor was he expected to do so.  During a campaign in which Allen was repeatedly vilified as a “neo-Confederate,” no one in the major media nor any liberal activist group ever called attention to Webb’s 1990 speech at the Confederate Memorial in Arlington.  Webb certainly never discouraged such attacks on Allen.

If there is one thing I’ve learned since coming to the nation’s capital nearly ten years ago, it is this: In Washington, never attribute to ideology that which can be adequately explained by ambition.

Webb, a conservative Republican, became a Democrat because he wanted to be a senator and the GOP offered no avenue for his ambition.  Liberal Democrats supported Webb because they thought he could fulfill their ambition to defeat Allen.  And, it could be argued, Allen lost his Senate seat because of his ambition to be president.  The consequences of all this surely will be interesting to watch, although I am by no means sure that Chronicles readers will be pleased with the consequences.

        —Robert Stacy McCain
Washington, D.C.

Dr. Hadar Replies:

I thank Mr. McCain for his thoughtful response to my article.  I agree with him that “Webb won for many reasons,” as all political candidates do.  And the same logic applies to Allen’s loss.  But the fact that Webb succeeded in forming a coalition that included liberals and conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, and independents, and that he won by such a small margin, suggests to me that what tipped the balance in the vote was the issue of the war.  Webb made the war the central issue of his campaign, which was clear to anyone who followed the race.  Hence, the notion that “Webb, a conservative Republican, became a Democrat because he wanted to be a senator and the GOP offered no avenue for his ambition” doesn’t make much sense to me.  How could Webb even consider running on a Republican platform that supports President Bush and his war in Iraq?  In any case, I’m sure that many Chronicles’ readers (and editors) who have been opposed to the war and also share Webb’s populist positions on trade are delighted by the results.