In 2006, Jim Webb launched a Democratic U.S. Senate campaign in Virginia – his first bid for elected office – and was universally seen as an underdog. He was taking on then-Sen. George Allen (R), a popular former governor who was eyeing the 2008 presidential race, and Webb, who entered the race late, seemed like a longshot.
But Allen’s “macaca” video, coupled with public disgust with the war in Iraq, actually propelled Webb to a narrow victory – he won by just 0.4%.
The Virginian never really seemed to like the job much, and after one term, Webb decided not to bother running for re-election. His career in politics appeared to be over. That is, until today, when Webb launched a presidential campaign. From his announcement:
“[O]ur country needs a fresh approach to solving the problems that confront us and too often unnecessarily divide us. We need to shake the hold of these shadow elites on our political process. Our elected officials need to get back to the basics of good governance and to remember that their principal obligations are to protect our national interests abroad and to ensure a level playing field here at home, especially for those who otherwise have no voice in the corridors of power. And at the same time our fellow Americans need proven, experienced leadership that can be trusted to move us forward from a new President’s first days in office.“I believe I can offer both.”
On paper, Webb brings quite a resume to the table. As Joy Y. Wang reported for msnbc, “The 69-year-old is a veteran of the Vietnam war, where he earned the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two Bronze Star Medals and two Purple Hearts. He later spent four years in the Pentagon working as an assistant secretary of defense and secretary of the Navy.” That, of course, was followed by six years in the Senate.
Not too shabby.
But looking past the resume, we see a candidate who’s likely to fare quite poorly in the presidential race.
First, Webb’s career since retiring from active duty has struggled at times. He was secretary of the Navy, but his tenure was rocky, and as Ronald Reagan famously wrote after Webb resigned, “I don’t think [the] Navy was sorry to see him go.” Webb’s six years in the Senate helped start some worthwhile conversations, but he left before he could build up an impressive legislative legacy, and he was not seen as as a particularly popular figure among his colleagues.
Second, and arguably more important, is the fact Webb is simply more conservative than most Democratic voters, especially in the Obama era in which politics in general have moved subtly to the left. It was Webb who recently defended those who honor the Confederate battle flag; it was Webb who regularly sided with Republicans on climate change; and it was Webb who has generally resisted the Democratic vision on issues related to diversity.
I’m even not sure just how serious Webb is about his national candidacy. He kicked off his campaign in a lengthy, poorly formatted blog post, published on the eve of a holiday weekend. A few months ago, Webb’s Iowa director quit – just two months after taking the job – and it took a while for anyone to notice her departure.
These are not generally signs of a competitive presidential hopeful.
Nevertheless, Webb’s routine breaks with party orthodoxy should at least make the debates more lively, and if nothing else, he’ll offer a noteworthy bookend to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Webb starts the race with national support at about 1.2%, slightly behind former Gov. Lincoln Chafee.