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Virginia real

Issue: "Nuke nightmare," Feb. 25, 2006

James Webb-Annapolis grad, decorated Marine, Vietnam vet-is an American every American ought to admire.

He's a talented writer: Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America (nonfiction) and Fields of Fire (fiction) are two of the must-read books of the past 40 years.

Appointed by Ronald Reagan to be Secretary of the Navy, he later resigned his post over an issue of principle. Mr. Webb is a hero.

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The real deal. And he's a candidate for the United States Senate.

As a Democrat. Against a Republican incumbent favored by many for the GOP nomination for president in 2008: George Allen.

The Webb candidacy is an important event in American politics -a campaign by a respected anti-war veteran against a supporter of the war in Iraq. It is a high-stakes collision of visions, and its turf in red-state Virginia makes it even more significant.

If Mr. Webb can persuade the commonwealth's voters that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, he will have single-handedly dealt a defeat to the Bush administration that will toll through the years.

But if the incumbent wins, the result will be impossible to deny. Voters in a high-profile race will have rallied to the idea of a forward defense and an aggressive war on the Islamists. And Mr. Allen will have scored the sort of political victory that will matter to the GOP base as it considers its 2008 options.

This will be a race of issues, not personalities, and both men would be well advised to treat it as such. If ever we had an opportunity for an updated set of Lincoln-Douglas debates, it is in Virginia in 2006.

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