Jim Webb defends commitment to presidential race

After his absence from two major Democratic events led some to question his commitment to running for president, former Sen. Jim Webb will attend a key upcoming event in Iowa after all.

Webb will attend the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson dinner scheduled for Oct. 24, his spokesperson told msnbc Wednesday afternoon, weeks after a press release for the event went out without Webb’s name on it.

The marquee Democratic event, in the state that holds the nation’s first nominating caucus, is typically a must-attend for Democratic presidential candidates. But Webb was the only invited candidate not to confirm by the time the Iowa Democratic Party announced the lineup for the dinner on Sept. 15.

The former Virginia senator was also the only declared candidate to miss a candidate forum held last weekend in New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first Democratic primary. And he was the only candidate to not attend a Democratic National Committee event in late August in Minneapolis.

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His absenteeism had Democrats at these high-profile events wondering aloud about the former senator’s investment in the race. Activists and delegates asked reporters if they knew what Webb was up to, since few seemed to know.

Webb, who vacillated on formally declaring a run for eight months after starting an exploratory committee, was listed on the program at the DNC meeting, but said he couldn’t attend because he had to take his daughter to college. His spokesperson also suggested the candidate was protesting what he saw as the DNC’s favoritism of front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Last weekend, the former senator was campaigning in Iowa during last week’s New Hampshire event. He sent an email to supporters the morning of the event blaming the party for any confusion. “I can assure you that I plan to spend plenty of time in New Hampshire,” he wrote.

As for the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson dinner, Webb’s spokesperson, Craig Crawford, said last week that “we just haven’t turned to that part of the calendar.”

Asked again Wednesday morning, Crawford said he was still not sure if Webb would attend the event. But the spokesperson emailed back a few hours later to say that the candidate would indeed attend. 

Crawford defended Webb’s conviction to run, pointing to a lengthy fundraising plea Webb posted on Facebook three weeks ago.

“The time is finally right for our under-financed insurgent campaign to be taken seriously in the media, among Republicans and independents, and even in the inner circles of the Democratic Party’s power structure,” Webb posted on Sept. 3.

“When the circus of this early political season quiets and people have had time to reflect on the direction of our country, they will be looking for a leader who can actually get things done and bring the diverse factions of our multicultural society together,” he continued. “I am ready to step into that vacuum, and to dedicate myself to making this happen.”

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He added: “With the right financial backing, we still have time to mount a solid campaign, and to WIN.”

Webb’s initial interest in a run was met with sincere interest and positive press coverage. His focus on winning white, rural voters who had left the Democratic Party seemed like a potentially worthy antidote to the low turnout of Democrat’s 2014 blowout, while his populist anti-war message made him a foil to front-runner Hillary Clinton.

But Webb has never shown much appetite for campaigning and his bid faced an early self-inflicted blow when he broke with his party by calling for respecting the Confederate Flag amid a national debate over the racially-charged symbol.

Unlike the other three main Democratic candidates, Webb has not yet revealed any information about his fundraising, since he declared his presidential run after the last campaign finance disclosure window. The next window closes in a week, and we’ll get a first look Webb’s finances next month.

Despite his low-key campaigning, Webb has found some pockets of support among veterans and rural Democrats, and he consistently polls at about the same level as former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who has run a more aggressive campaign.

Jim Webb

Jim Webb defends commitment to presidential race