2016: Democrat Jim Webb Enters The Ring

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Nov 24, 2014 7:00 PM
2016: Democrat Jim Webb Enters The Ring

Jim Webb, former Democratic Senator from Virginia, has launched an exploratory committee for a potential 2016 candidacy. On paper, Jim Webb looks as if he has potential; he carries himself as a centrist, he’s a military veteran, and he could get traction with blue-collar, working class whites–a constituency that is trending towards Republicans:

Last week, Webb released a 14-minute video outlining his intention to toss his hat into the 2016 ring–for now (via National Journal):

"Over the past few months, thousands of concerned Americans from across the political spectrum have urged me to run for president," Webb said in the video. "A constant theme runs through these requests: Americans want positive, visionary leadership that they can trust, at a time when our country is facing historic challenges. They're worried about the state of our economy, the fairness of our complicated multicultural society, the manner in which we are addressing foreign policy and national security challenges, and the divisive, paralyzed nature of our government itself. They're worried about the future. They want solutions, not rhetoric."

Webb is trying to define himself as a moderate whose limited political experience is a boon: He has political experience, but he's not a "career politician." He's a veteran of the Marine Corps, but he's also generally antiwar. He understands Wall Street, but will not be beholden to it.

"I learned long ago on the battlefields of Vietnam that in a crisis, there is no substitute for clear-eyed leadership," Webb said. "Each time I served not with the expectation of making government a career, but to contribute to the good of the country during a period of crisis or great change," Webb said. "In that spirit, I have decided to launch an exploratory committee to examine whether I should run for president in 2016.

Then again, while Mr. Webb is a Democrat, he never mentioned what party nomination he was vying for in the video. You can speculate, but he will probably file as a Democrat. In doing so, is Webb the anti-Clinton candidate for 2016?

Salena Zito of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review wrote that Webb isn’t a candidate who is concerned about probability for success; he was given a 15 percent chance of beating then-Sen. George Allen in 2006. She noted how he brings an “aura of leadership” to the 2016 field:

Webb has never followed any drumbeat but his own, an attribute that soured him on both political parties. Yet it fits perfectly with the populism that drove Democrats out of office earlier this month.

He uniquely reflects Main Street's frustration with Washington.

He pushed back on Republicans in 2006, when dissatisfaction with George Bush's handling of the Iraq war led him to run and win — as a Democrat — that Senate seat in Virginia. By 2010 he was as dissatisfied as the rest of the country with Barack Obama's presidency and the Democratic Party, and he quickly decided after that year's wave election that he would not seek re-election to the Senate.

In short, his disconnect with Washington mirrors yours.

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that nearly 60 percent of Americans believe our political and economic systems are barriers working against them. That alienation crosses all parties, races, ages and professions; whites, blacks, Hispanics, millennials, boomers, white- and blue-collar, high-tech and poor, all are fed up.

That is not a poll that helps establishment Washington. But it is one in which Webb could shine.

Webb resigned as Ronald Reagan's Navy secretary in 1988 when he disagreed with budget cuts. He has criticized both parties, most recently Democrats; in his announcement, he did not indicate which party's nomination he will seek.

He brings a unique life experience to the race — and, if he runs as a Democrat, he gets an early jump as the anti-Hillary candidate, according to Democrat strategist Dane Strother: “As that candidate he will get more traction than most believe. He even might be able to catch lightning in a bottle.”

Zito noted that we’re going through a neo-populist wave that has yet to be defined à la the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements, but if Webb has these qualities, it could be something for these unnamed voters to rally around.