On Thursday afternoon, as half of D.C. was attempting to slip away early for the holiday weekend, former Virginia senator Jim Webb announced his run for president. Rather than appear in a YouTube video or march into his old high school to break the news, he posted a letter on webb2016.com that tops out at more than 2,000 words but has one curious omission: Webb never comes out and says that he is seeking the nomination of the Democratic party.
Webb did serve in the Senate from 2007 to 2013 as a Democrat and has some traditionally liberal positions on LGBT rights and abortion access, and the Vietnam veteran and former Secretary of the Navy has opposed recent military interventions overseas. Web stresses in Thursday's letter that as commander-in-chief he would not have advocated for the use of force in Iraq or Libya.
Assuming Webb is diving into the 2016 fray on the Democratic side, he's the fifth to enter a field that remains dominated by Hillary Clinton and her unexpectedly credible challenger, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Webb's lengthy announcement tacitly acknowledges that he poses no threat to Clinton in fundraising but uses his disadvantage to paint himself as a back-to-basics populist fighting big money and partisan division in politics:
I understand the odds, particularly in today’s political climate where fair debate is so often drowned out by huge sums of money. I know that more than one candidate in this process intends to raise at least a billion dollars–some estimates run as high as two billion dollars–in direct and indirect financial support. Highly paid political consultants are working to shape the "messaging" of every major candidate.
But our 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.
Webb has some catching up to do on the campaign trail–both Clinton and Sanders have been making the rounds in the early primary states for weeks–though he did appear alongside his fellow long-shot candidate Martin O'Malley at a Polk County Democratic Party dinner in Iowa back in April.
It's not clear what Webb's ultimate goal is, assuming he is realistic about his chances of getting onto the Democratic ticket. He could be angling to be Hillary's VP pick as a moderate whose military service could help her win over less-liberal swing voters, or hoping to bring attention to the veterans' issues he cares about, especially PTSD treatment. Webb's never seemed like an enthusiastic participant in D.C. politics, having left the Senate after only one term. There might be a hint of Ainsley Hayes-style urge to serve America at work, with one clue in the custom URL extension Webb chose for his Facebook page: "IHeardMyCountryCalling."