James Webb, onetime Navy secretary in the Reagan administration and Vietnam veteran, noted author of both fiction and nonfiction, has beaten Harris Miller in the Democratic primary and will face Republican Sen. George Allen in the general election. Webb used to be a Republican and supported Allen in 2000. Now, however, he opposes the Iraq war and seems happy to be running as a Democrat. He should be an interesting candidate and may give Allen a tougher race than he or almost anyone else expected a year ago. Webb won by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin.
A possibly discouraging sign was that turnout was low: 155,000 voters in a state of 7.5 million people. That's less than half the 396,000 who voted in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary. Admittedly, the primary contest didn't have a lot of visibility, but it did feature two competent candidates who presented an interesting contrast. The regional patterns of support are hard to explain. Nearly half, 46 percent, of the votes were cast in counties and independent cities that are classified as part of the Washington metropolitan area, which has only 32 percent of the state's population. Miller, who is from the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, lost the Washington metro area to Webb by a 62 percent to 38 percent margin. Webb, whose most recent book, Born Fighting, is about the Scots-Irish, lost in the rest of the state by a 54 percent to 46 percent margin. Heavily black constituencies (Richmond city, Charles City County) gave Miller about 70 percent of the vote. The southwest corner of the state, heavily Scots-Irish, voted for Webb, but not by a large margin.
A couple of final notes from the election returns. The vote was relatively heavy in the close-in Washington suburbs, which tend to have a lot of liberal Democratic voters. Primary participation was 8.65 percent of total population in Falls Church city, 6.41 percent in Arlington County, 5.18 percent in Alexandria city, 4.62 percent in Fairfax city, and 3.51 percent in Fairfax County. In fast-growing exurban counties it was much lower: Loudoun (1.71 percent), Prince William (1.51 percent), Stafford (1.07 percent), Spotsylvania (1.01 percent). It was lower still in Manassas Park (.66 percent). There the vote was 38 to 38. Those are not percentages but the actual number of votes. Just 76 people voted out of a census-estimated population of 11,519. It must have been a very quiet day at the polling stations.