Jim Webb Announces Presidential Exploratory Committee

Former Senator Jim Webb is the first Democrat to kinda, sorta, throw his hat into the ring for 2016.

Sen. Jim Webb talks to CNN's John King about the political conflict in Libya.

Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who retired from the Senate after one term at the end of 2012 rather than running for re-election, has become the first Democrat to take steps toward running for President in 2016:

Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb became the first well-known Democrat to launch an exploratory committee to run for president on Wednesday night, saying the nation is at a “serious crossroads.”

“I have decided to launch an Exploratory Committee to examine whether I should run for President in 2016,” Webb said in a four-page letter on his website, Webb2016.

“I made this decision after reflecting on numerous political commentaries and listening to many knowledgeable people. I look forward to listening and talking with more people in the coming months as I decide whether or not to run.”

The Vietnam veteran added, “A strong majority of Americans agree that we are at a serious crossroads. In my view the solutions are not simply political, but those of leadership. I learned long ago on the battlefields of Vietnam that in a crisis, there is no substitute for clear-eyed leadership.”

Webb, who was Ronald Reagan’s Navy secretary and who has held centrist views on a number of issues, has been bolstered by progressive news outlet The Nation as a potential challenge from the left to Hillary Clinton, the dominant front-runner who hasn’t yet said if she will launch a second national campaign.

“With enough financial support to conduct a first-class campaign, I have no doubt that we can put these issues squarely before the American people and gain their support,” said Webb, acknowledging his underdog status against a likely Clinton fundraising juggernaut.

Bloomberg’s David Weigel notes that Webb has long been a critic of his own party, but gave no real indication until recently that he might be interesting in running for President:

After the Democrats’ 2010 election rout, Webb spoke out with unusual candor about the ways the party had lost working class white voters. He announced just three months later that he would retire from the Senate, clearing a path for the much more electorally-inclined Tim Kaine to run for his seat. In 2012, a liberated Webb kept on criticizing the way Democrats had governed under Barack Obama. He returned to the campaign trail to stump for the president anyway.

Still, until this summer, Webb gave every indication that he was finished with politics. His memoir, I Heard My Country Calling, began with a vignette from the day Webb cleaned out his Senate office.

“I heard my father’s voice:  If you’re going to miss it, then maybe you should have stayed, Sonny Boy,” wrote Webb. “No. It was definitely time to go.”

Yet while promoting that book, Webb gave an interview to USA Today‘s Susan Page in which he refused to rule out a presidential run. Six months later, he is the first kind-of candidate for president of either party.

Weigel notes that, in his announcements video, Webb doesn’t necessarily make it clear which party’s nomination he’s considering running for, but it seems clear that he still considers himself a Democrat and that he would be seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination. Obviously, with Hillary Clinton most likely running as well and pretty much everyone assuming that the nomination is hers absent some truly serious mistakes on her part, a Webb candidacy would be somewhat quixotic, but to be fair that’s something that could be said of anyone else who gets into the race against Hillary this time around. Webb no doubt recognizes this fact, as do the other potential Democratic candidates, but as we’ve seen many times in the past running to win is only one of the many reasons that someone might run for President, or in this case set up an exploratory committee. In Webb’s case, some of that reasoning can be seen in earlier coverage of his trips to Iowa during the midterm campaign when he often his on populist themes such as income inequality but also emphasized foreign policy issues, which is an area where other “alternative” Democratic candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Brian Schweitzer are notably lacking. Granted, this is also a policy field where Clinton herself has quite an extensive resume thanks to her time as Secretary of State, but if Webb did run on a campaign of questioning much of the foreign policy record that Clinton is quite obviously going to claim as an asset then that could create quite an interesting conflict between the two candidates.

All that being said, as I said when the possibility of a Webb candidacy first came up earlier this year, the idea of Jim Webb running for President does seem kind of odd given his own political history. Webb was not, as Virginia’s own Larry Sabato has noted, a particularly good politician even if one classifies him as a good Senator. Most notably, it’s worth remembering that he was a reluctant candidate against George Allen in 2006, requiring some significant coaxing from Virginia Democrats before he finally jumped into the race, and he has never really seemed to enjoy the day-to-day slog of actually campaigning for office. Considering that this is exactly what Webb would be committing himself to for the next year or more at least in states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina where face-to-face campaigning rather than speeches at big rallies and television appearances are not only expected but very much required of serious candidates for President, one has to wonder just how committed he would be to running if this exploratory committee actually turned into a campaign at some point in the future. Additionally, some media reports describe Webb coming across as gruff in personal interactions with voters, and that’s not necessarily something that is going to go over well in the early states where, if his campaign was going to turn into something more than a vanity exercise, he would need to do better than expected against a candidate that everyone assumes is going to be the nominee in a walkaway. Inevitably, there is going to be someone running on the Democratic side that the media will focus on, even for a brief period of time, only because coverage of what looks like a Clinton coronation is going to get very boring very fast. Whether Webb is that person or not is going to depend a lot on whether or not he can put aside much of his seeming aversion to retail politics, because if he can’t then it will be a very short campaign for him.

In any case, here’s the video where Webb launches his committee:

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. C. Clavin says:

    Thankfully someone is challenging Clinton.

  2. Dave says:

    Webb was not, as Virginia’s own Larry Sabato has noted, a particularly good politician

    And Hillary is? Also, given Webb’s life story, his gruffness may not be perceived as badly as it is in some politicians.

  3. stonetools says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Yeah, but challenging Clinton from the right. I don’t think Webb is liberal on domestic policy and he is hawkish on foreign policy. Webb is not what liberals have in mind when they call for a challenger to Clinton.

  4. stonetools says:


    I think what Webb is angling for is a Cabinet post, ideally Secretary of Defense. That would be the best post for him in a future Democratic administration.

  5. C. Clavin says:

    Agreed…but someone has to…and if I had my way Webb would be just the first.

  6. Luke Lea says:

    Sounds like a breath of fresh air to me. Voters like anti-politicians if they talk straight, not slick. Remember Ross Perot? That giant sucking noise he referred to turned out to be real.

  7. humanoid.panda says:

    @stonetools: He is actually far to the left of Hillary on foreign affairs., which I think will be his major calling card.

  8. He’ll get bored in a couple weeks and quit.

  9. C. Clavin says:

    It’s too bad about the timing…otherwise I’d be looking for Malloy out of CT.
    He’s a moderate liberal and he has the balls to stand by his moderately liberal policies.
    Unfortunately he was just re-elected…in ’16 he will be just midway thru his second term as Governor in a State with the 2nd best economic growth in the NE region, including the home of that big fat bully…New Joisey. (there’s those Republican economic theories failing again)
    If the election was in ’18 it might work.

  10. CSK says:


    The Nation magazine wants Webb to challenge Hillary Clinton from the left, which doesn’t make a lick of sense to me, since he seems to be to the right of her on a number of issues.

  11. stonetools says:


    Huh. I took a look and I definitely have to reconsider my opinion on Webb’s FP. Here’s a website on Webb’s FB profile.Lead:

    Focus on strategic threats like China, not Iraq

    The Senate shares the foreign policy power with the president. When I’m in the Senate, I’ll use that power not only to stop the rubber stamp that’s been given to the White House, but to shift our focus back to where it belongs: the broader, international war on terror, and the strategic threats of emerging nations such as China. That means working with allies, partnering with armed forces around the globe, sharing common burdens and working for the common good.
    Source: Campaign announcement speech , Apr 28, 2006

  12. gVOR08 says:

    I’ve been keeping a list of anyone I hear touted for prez. Webb makes 9 Dems.

    A POLITICO article a couple days ago on 20 potential GOPs added Fiorina, Thune, and Graham, for 23. It’s going to be a long two years.

  13. C. Clavin says:

    At least Webb is talking about China.
    According to OTB it does not exist.

  14. Senyordave says:

    40 years ago Webb would have been a middle-of-the-road Republican, not even a moderate one. Doesn’t support gays in the military, deep down doesn’t seem to have much use for women in the military, essentially anti-abortion, I think a person who voted for Reagan would like Webb a lot.

  15. stonetools says:

    On Jim Webb running, Kos is shrill:

    But talk about “bipartisanship” and “Democrats just want to give people handouts” and speak fearfully of a “complicated multicultural society”, and yeah, maybe you’re not the real primary challenger to Hillary Clinton that so many want. But run, Jim, run! Every primary needs its hopeless cranks and comic relief. He can be our very own Herman Cain! But if we’re going to have a Democratic Primary that’s more than a coronation, someone better will have to step up.

    Don’t think liberals are going to be lining up behind him, his less hawkish FP notwithstanding.They will be waiting for Elizabeth.

  16. stonetools says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Well, they’re writing their expertise. Joyner writes for a publication called the Atlantic Council, Doug’s focus on FP is that we should not get involved in the Middle East or anywhere else, and Shuler is similarly an Atlanticist. I’m not sure any of them live east of the Appalachians.
    There is no one among the front pagers who is Pacific minded, so… they don’t have much to say on that area.

  17. Pinky says:

    @Senyordave: Everything on his OnTheIssues.org abortion page is pro-choice.

  18. the Q says:

    Webb will be either the next President of Vice President.

    He was against the Iraq war. Is a veteran when none of the wingnuts running in 2016 can lay that claim.

    And in the desert of ABC (anybody but clinton) he just might surprise the neo liberals who love the Clintons so much since they made them all so much money and allowed them to stay out of jail ( in other words an Obama clone).

    Liberals today care about allowing Jose and Jesus to get amnestied so they can get married to each other.

    Enforcing anti trust laws, breaking up corporate concentration of market share actually giving a schitt about the “white male voter”, re-installing Glass Steagall, bearing down on malefactors of great wealth and basically giving a rats arse about the middle class are about as fashionable to todays liberals as Hummers.

    Hillary Clinton is symptomatic of everything wrong about baby boomer liberals – viz they aren’t.

    Other than the issues of race and pot, the boomers are pathetically conservative and risk averse and most are Republicans.

    In the 50s, 60s 70, those that classifeid themselves as “liberal” was in the 30 – 45% range. Now its 20%.

  19. Pinky says:

    @Pinky: I just checked, and Jim Webb has a 100% rating from NARAL and Planned Parenthood, and a 0% rating from NRLC. Does he actually have to perform them?