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Jim Webb all but announces he's running for president

Former Senator Jim Webb, in 2012.
Former Senator Jim Webb, in 2012.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

  1. Former Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) announced late Wednesday night that he would open an exploratory committee for a presidential run.
  2. Webb's announcement video presented him as a bipartisan problem-solver, while critiquing the Democratic establishment (and, by implication, Hillary Clinton) on both economic and foreign policy issues from the left.
  3. Forming an exploratory committee is a key step that many presidential candidates take before officially launching campaigns. Though it's not certain that Webb will run in the end, the move shows he's quite seriously considering it.

Webb's announcement video

On Wednesday night, former Senator James Webb (D-VA) sent a 14-minute video to supporters announcing that he had opened an exploratory campaign to consider a presidential run, and asking for donations.

"Is it possible for us to return to a leadership environment where people from both political parties and both philosophical points of view feel compelled to work together for the common good and to sort out their disagreements in a way that moves our country forward rather than tearing the fabric of this nation apart?" Webb asked. "As one who spent four years in the Reagan administration and then served in the Senate as a Democrat, I believe it is possible. It is also necessary."

A bipartisan background

Webb, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, worked as a Congressional staffer, and then in President Reagan's Defense Department, where he rose to become Secretary of the Navy. He resigned from that position in 1988 in protest of budget cuts. Afterward, he worked as an author and a filmmaker, and went back and forth between supporting candidates from both major parties.

But Webb's frustration with President George W. Bush's war in Iraq eventually led him to choose a side — and he ran for a US Senate seat in Virginia as a Democrat in 2006. He won a narrow victory over incumbent Senator George Allen (R), helping the party retake the chamber that year. After serving out his term, though, Webb decided not to run again in 2012.

An economic critique of the Democratic Party

In the video, Webb mentioned poverty and stagnation affecting Americans from the inner cities to the Appalachian mountains, while mentioning that the average CEO now made greater than 300 times what his worker made. "The inequalities between top and bottom in our country are greater than at any time in the last hundred years," Webb said. "We cannot sit idly by and suggest that such economic power divisions are permanent."

He went on: "The Democratic Party used to be the place where people like this could come not for a handout but for a respectable handshake. Good full-time jobs, quality education, health care they could afford, and the vital overriding reassurance that we are all in this together and that the system is not rigged in favor of one group of people and against another. We can get there again."

In a recent interview with the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza, Webb elaborated on his critique of the party on economic issues:

"There is a big tendency among a lot of Democratic leaders to feed some raw meat to the public on smaller issues that excite them, like the minimum wage, but don't really address the larger problem," Webb said. "A lot of the Democratic leaders who don't want to scare away their financial supporters will say we're going to raise the minimum wage, we're going do these little things, when in reality we need to say we're going to fundamentally change the tax code so that you will believe our system is fair."

Webb's skepticism of military interventionism would surely also be a major element of his campaign. In his video, he critiqued "ill-considered foreign ventures that have drained trillions from our economy and brought instability instead of deterrence." The implied contrast to Hillary Clinton, who was a key proponent of Obama's 2009 troop surge in Afghanistan and proposed arming Syrian rebels, is clear.

Webb's pitch

In the video, Webb acknowledged that he's facing "what many commentators consider nearly impossible odds." Indeed, Hillary Clinton has a gigantic lead in the polls, and will likely win the support of nearly every major Democratic party figure and interest group.

Webb is hoping that his actual record of bipartisanship, combined with a potent policy critique of the party, will convince both moderate and liberal Democratic voters to gravitate to him instead.

"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," he said. Depending on the success of his exploratory committee, he'll likely decide on a run at the end of this year or in early 2015.