In an exclusive feature on "This Week," George Stephanopoulos went on the trail to report on the bitter Senate battle brewing in Virginia between incumbent Sen. George Allen, R-Va., and his Republican-turned-Democratic challenger James Webb.
"You know, Ronald Reagan left the Democratic party and went to the Republican Party," said Webb, who served as Reagan's Navy Secretary before changing parties over the issue of Iraq. "And I said a while back, I think if Ronald Reagan were alive today looking at where his party has gone, he might be thinking about coming back to the Democratic Party too."
"Yeah, right," Allen responded, telling Stephanpoulos, "He served as secretary for 10 months for Ronald Reagan. I don't think Ronald Reagan would be on the other side of a party that is led by folks such as Sen. Kerry and Sen. Schumer and Harry Reid and Tom Daschle and Teddy Kennedy."
The issue of Iraq most sharply divides the candidates, though their attire -- with Allen clad in trademark cowboy boots and Webb in combat boots -- is a visual sign of their differences.
On Iraq, Allen accuses Webb of being a part of the "I told you so caucus," an accusation Webb rejects.
"I think there a lot of people who don't want to be reminded that they were warned," Webb said. "And I think it's relevant when you talk about how you build national strategy and how you use the military to talk about how these decisions have been made. There should be some sort of an accountability."
The senator, son of Hall of Fame football coach George H. Allen, called that "Monday morning quarterbacking," telling chief ABC News Washington correspondent Stephanopoulos, "You can talk about 'I told you so' and that the information that the U.S. and our allies relied upon was bad. Ultimately, the results of all that would be Saddam Hussein would still be in one of his palaces today, rather than in prison. Zarqawi, who was running loose, actually, at that time in Iraq, would not be a dead martyr, which is what we'd rather have, rather than a live terrorist."
Webb argued for a "clear end point" to the U.S. engagement in Iraq, saying, "There are a lot of people that got us into Iraq who want us to stay there for the next 30 to 50 years," and later adding, "I think we can be out of Iraq in two years."
When asked to reply to Webb's prediction, Allen replied, "Completely out in two years? Now he's got a timetable," before concluding, "I don't think [it] is based on the facts on the ground there. But I think substantial progress could be made, and I cannot imagine us needing 130,000 troops."
Allen, who served a term as Virginia's governor, once thought his bid for reelection in relatively conservative Virginia might be a smooth path toward contending for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. Now he's in a fight, although still favored, for his political life.
"People know me in Virginia," Allen said, rejecting the notion that President Bush's sagging polls will hurt his reelection chances in a state the president solidly won in both 2000 and 2004.
"The president's always welcome in Virginia," Allen said. "We have the same philosophy. Heck, our party is a broad and diverse party. We're not going to agree on everything. But most of the time, I'm proud of the president and the stands he takes."
By Allen's count, he voted in favor of the president's position on issues before the Senate 97 percent of the time in 2005. His Democratic challenger sees that as a weakness, not strength.
"It concerns me," Webb said. "I had thought that we were going to see much better leadership from George Allen. I have nothing personally against George Allen at all. I just believe that we need independent thought right now."
Stephanopoulos pressed Webb, who voted for Bush in 2000, on whether he was comfortable as a Democrat.
"I've always been very independent," he said. "And quite frankly after 9/11, I just lost all my anger. You know, that was a big part of what was going on with a lot of people in my age group who had gone to Vietnam and come back and felt like the Democratic Party didn't want them, and went to the Republican Party like I did on issues of national security."
Webb affirmed that he would support the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008, who, if Webb's campaign to unseat Allen fails, could face Allen for the White House.
But for now, thoughts of higher office are on hold; Sen. Allen is focused on keeping his Senate seat.
"There's a lot that will say, 'Oh, we want you to run for president, I hope you run, and so forth,' " Allen said. "I said, 'Fine, fine, but let's pay attention to the task at hand.' "
"It's pretty hard to predict the future," Allen added. "And I'm just happy to be alive at the end of every day."
George Stephanopoulos' entire interviews with Allen and Webb can be viewed at the "This Week" Web page at www.abcnews.com.