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Jim Webb, Martin O'Malley present first 2016 challenges for Clinton

Two potentially serious challengers to Hillary Clinton, ex-Sen. Jim Webb and Gov. Martin O'Malley, have signaled their intent to enter the 2016 campaign.
Sen. Jim Webb
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., questions witnesses during a hearing on Capitol Hill on March 6, 2012.

Two potential challengers to Hillary Clinton, former Sen. Jim Webb and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, have clearly signaled their intent to enter the 2016 campaign.

Webb launched an exploratory committee late Wednesday to consider a 2016 run. The committee gives him the ability to fundraise, spend, and organize like a presidential campaign, without officially declaring just yet.

The popular ex-senator from Virginia has moderate, anti-war credentials that might ring true with liberals and moderates voters sick of gridlock and overseas military operations. 

Related: Webb rips Romney over the military

“Over the past few months, thousands of concerned Americans across the political spectrum have asked me to run for president,” Webb said in a video posted to his website. “A constant theme runs through these requests. Americans want positive, visionary leadership that they can trust.”

Meanwhile, outgoing Maryland Gov. O’Malley has hired a former adviser to Hillary Clinton to lead policy development at his political action committee. O’Malley has only two more months left in office in Annapolis, but his Washington-based O’Say Can You See PAC is adding staff. One major addition is Sarah Miller, who served on the policy team of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and was a close aide to longtime Clinton confidant John Podesta at the Center for American Progress, a leading liberal think tank.

At the Center for American Progress, Miller served as a speechwriter and policy adviser to Podesta, who founded the think tank before moving to the White House as counselor to President Obama late last year. Podesta served as Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff and will likely hold a very senior role in another Clinton presidential campaign. After CAP, Miller joined the Treasury Department, but has remained close to Podesta.

O’Malley, who says he is seriously considering a presidential bid, has a policy record in Maryland that could excite progressives. And lately, he’s been vocal in taking the liberal positions on issues of the day. He came out for net neutrality just before President Obama made his own announcement on the matter, and called on Congress to vote down the Keystone XL pipeline ahead of a much-watched vote this week.

Related: Potential Hillary Clinton challengers gear up for fight

On the other hand, Webb has cast himself as an economic populist. He has touted his varied credentials—eight years of active duty military, including deployment in Vietnam, five years at the Pentagon mostly as Assistant Secretary of Defense and Assistant Secretary of the Navy, four years working behind the scenes in Congress, and six years in Congress. His anti-interventionist views will differentiate him from Clinton, who voted for the war in Iraq while in the Senate and encouraged the Obama administration’s intervention in Libya.

But credentials aside, few Americans even know Webb’s name and few are talking about his candidacy for president: in a Washington Post/ABC News poll from June, he garnered support from only 2% of Democrats.

At an event in September, Webb acknowledged his likely opponent, Hillary Clinton.

“I’m not here to undermine her,” Webb said. “I’m here just to explain where my concerns are as someone whose been involved in military and foreign policy all of my life.”