Mary Katharine Ham

Despite Allen’s immense fundraising advantage, it looks like a race in which a tough-talking moderate Democrat could put up a fight in a state where tough-talking moderate Democrats have had a lock on the governorship for the last two terms. From afar, the contest looks like George Bush vs. a more moderate, muscular John Kerry. Exactly what the Dems need, right?

I went into the debate write-up expecting some smart talk from Webb, perhaps an early signal that the Democrats were going to start capitalizing on Republican woes with Democrat ideas.

Instead, I found that Webb wears combat boots instead of delivering a limp salute. He peppers his calls for withdrawal from Iraq with respectful references to the leadership of Ronald Reagan.

But all in all, Webb’s part of the debate sounded a heck of a lot like Kerry’s infamous “I have a plan” debate of ‘04.

"I would like to ask the people of Virginia, 'Is the country better off than it was six years ago' " when Allen was elected to the Senate? Webb asked. "Are we more respected around the world? Is our economy truly fairer to all Americans? Is your job secure? . . . I would like to offer a fresh set of eyes to the problems that face us."

A fresh set of ideas might work better. Instead, while Allen offered a plan to establish permanent military bases in Iraq, Webb said troops could be out of the country in two years, but didn’t say how.

“I have a plan…”

Webb said we should raise the federal minimum wage without referencing the economic downside to such a move (mostly for the low-income workers it’s meant to benefit). Allen suggested we should raise it only in conjunction with tax relief for small businesses that would otherwise be hampered by the extra cost.

“Wait until you hear my plan…”

Allen pointed to health savings accounts as a way to lower the number of Americans who are uninsured. Webb cited the need for a greater federal effort on health care.

“Now, if you’d just listen to my plan…”

To his credit, Webb offered the idea of punishing corporations who hire illegal immigrants as a way to assuage the problem, and mentioned extending affirmative action programs to poor whites. There’s the more muscular, moderate side of this Democrat.

Those ideas don’t promise to be the kind that will get the exhausted lefty activists I know up and writing new signage. They’re more likely to leave them huffing at home in a Kos-induced funk. But those are exactly the ideas Webb needs to be trumpeting to offer a real alternative to Allen.

Republicans are not safe. But the “I have a plan” approach didn’t work in ’04, and the party leaders have nothing much to bolster it with, unless you count the whopping 10-page “Real Security Plan” they unveiled in March.

Conservative activists should be motivated in ’06 by the fact that Republicans could very well go down in defeat to a reform party with no real reforms to offer, which would be a dangerous defeat for the country. As for liberal activists, the hope and the plan better get here fast, because I don’t think those lonely Kerry-Edwards signs were made to shiver through another cold November.

Mary Katharine Ham

Mary Katharine Ham is editor-at-large of, a contributor to Townhall Magazine.

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