ALEXANDRIA, Virginia -- "We are standing on the precipice of a dramatic Democratic transformation in politics," said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), at an election-eve rally in northern Virginia.
Moran meant of course that he expected to see the Republicans swept from office and his own party return to the majority in Congress in the next 24 hours. But he could just as easily have been referring to the amazing transformation of the man he was introducing: Virginia Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb.
Webb famously left the GOP to run for the Senate earlier this year. But "former Republican" doesn't even begin to describe the identities he left behind.
This was after all the highly lauded Vietnam vet /author who literally wrote the book on the greatness of redneck culture. The Navy Secretary who quit because he thought Ronald Reagan was going soft. The gun lover who once seethed with anger over the "activist left," and "cultural Marxists," who endorsed his current opponent, GOP Senator George Allen, last time around, and who once said that President Bill Clinton presided over "the most corrupt administration in modern memory."
You could go on and on...
Yet it was doubtful that many of the Democrats at Monday's rally knew much of this, since surprisingly little of it has been an issue in the race. What they knew was that Webb was a guy who wanted the U.S. out of Iraq and George Allen out on his ass. And that was good enough for them.
Webb certainly wasn't about to break the spell. He instead used his stump speech to again hit the administration over Iraq, to attack Karl Rove's campaign of "character assassination" against him, and to make an appeal to old-time economic populism.
"The average corporate CEO makes $8 million a year and we haven't raised in the minimum wage?" he thundered. "That's going to change."
He also incidentally congratulated himself on not changing any of views during his campaign and noted that lots of people had come up to him and thanked him for running such a clean campaign.
AS IF TO DISPEL ANY DOUBTS that he was truly one of them now, Webb was joined on stage by literal who's who of Democratic leaders: current Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, former Gov. Mark Warner, former Senator Bob Kerrey, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the "rock star" of the event (Moran's words): former President Bill Clinton.
You know he's a great speaker, but you still need to actually see Clinton in person to realize how truly dazzling he can be. He can cut so quickly and so smoothly you're not even aware that it happened until the blood starts dripping.
One of his newer tactics is to make a point of how much money he was made since leaving office thanks to his book and then complain about getting a "tax cut for the rich" that he doesn't want.
"They're the ones waging class warfare. My class is winning, and I don't like it," he said in that familiar, raspy voice of his. He didn't say whether he cashed the tax refund or not though.
Interestingly, although he was urging people to elect Webb, Clinton was too much the alpha dog to let the candidate's past comments about him completely slide. Instead he threw a veiled barb in Webb's direction.
"I was personally thrilled when Webb decided to run for the Senate," he said. "After 9/11, we all had to let our personal divisions go."
The question on your humble correspondent's mind was why they were rallying in northern Virginia in the first place. One of the initial rationales for Webb's campaign was that with his background he could strike deep into the state's reddest areas and poach Allen's votes. Instead they were closing out the race the way every major statewide Democrat candidate does, trying to boost turnout in the state's northern -- and most liberal -- regions.
Indeed, throughout the race Webb has mostly stuck to the Democratic Party's standard script. It might still work, especially this year. Polls show the race neck-and-neck and Allen ran a campaign so cloddishly incompetent that even if he does survive his presidential hopes are over.
If he does win, what type of senator might Webb turn out to be? If the Republicans are lucky once Iraq is resolved he'll return to his right-wing roots and become the next Zell Miller. If the Democrats are lucky he'll become John Kerry 2.0: A liberal Democrat who truly is immune to being called a wimp. Based on the campaign he's run, option #2 seems more likely.
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