June 14, 2006 7:45AM

Virginia Tees up a Senate Race

Virginia’s voters — about 1.5 percent of them, anyway — have given James Webb a narrow victory in the Democratic Senate primary, setting up a race with incumbent George Allen that promises to be among the most interesting in the country. Allen, who has mysteriously been regarded as a leading presidential candidate, will now have to spend some time at home fighting off the bestselling novelist and former Navy Secretary.

Webb is not your typical Democrat, which is why he had trouble winning the nomination over a lesser‐​known party activist. But he should be strong in the general election. He’s a Vietnam War hero who was appointed Navy Secretary by Ronald Reagan and was an early and vocal opponent of the war in Iraq, warning in 2002 that “there is no exit strategy.” He can appeal to both leftwing Democrats and moderates who are increasingly disillusioned with the war and the Republicans.

Polls indicate that some 15 to 20 percent of voters hold libertarian views, differing from both liberals and conservatives. Webb’s opposition to the war and his boast that he’s “pro‐​choice, pro‐​gay rights but also pro‐​Second Amendment” should give him strong appeal to those voters. He thinks the GOP‐​controlled Congress “rubber‐​stamps” whatever the Bush administration does, and as a result “we are on the verge of a constitutional crisis in this country … far more serious and far more widespread than anything we saw during the Watergate era.” However, the Washington Post editorialized that his “somewhat strident populism on trade policy tends toward xenophobic sloganeering and business‐​bashing.” He’ll have to develop a more thoughtful position on economic issues to make much headway with libertarian‐​leaning voters.

If he does, it will be interesting to see what libertarians make of the choice between an orthodox conservative Bush Republican and an unorthodox antiwar Democrat. As governor, George Allen scored a 40 on Cato’s Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors (his predecessor, putatively liberal Democrat Doug Wilder, scored 75), and he has no notable achievements in the Senate. He voted for the war, the Patriot Act, the Federal Marriage Amendment, the Medicare prescription drug entitlement, and the No Child Left Behind Act.

Let the battle for the libertarian center begin.