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Jim Webb goes from barely running for president to not running for president

But he left open the possibility that he'll barely run as an independent.

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.

Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb announced that he'd drop out of the Democratic presidential race Tuesday afternoon at a Washington, DC press conference. Webb stressed his independent views, and said they were incompatible with the Democratic power structure. He did, however, seemingly dangle the possibility that he could decide to run for president as an independent.

Webb, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and former Reagan Navy secretary, began exploring a presidential race nearly a year ago. He portrayed himself as a bipartisan and moderate problem solver, but offered populist critiques of the Democratic establishment (and, by implication, Hillary Clinton) on both economic and foreign policy issues.

Yet he also had a history of support for gun rights and a skepticism about affirmative action, as well as a cultural closeness to working-class white voters. Indeed, some commentators suggested that "Jim Webb would make a good anti-Clinton in 2016" or that he was "the real threat to Hillary Clinton," since he could theoretically have gained support among moderates and Democratic-leaning independents who weren't sold on Clinton.

But that didn't happen.

Webb didn't do very much campaigning

Webb announced his campaign quite late — in early July — and often seemed to be barely trying. He wasn't a traditional politician, having only ever run for office once, and it showed.

"Is Jim Webb actually running for president? I don't even know," wrote Max Rosenthal, who was assigned to cover the Webb campaign for Mother Jones. Webb had only infrequently visited the early states, and didn't seem to be building any campaign or volunteer organizations. "Jim Webb is a ghost in New Hampshire and seemingly the rest of the campaign trail," the Concord Monitor's Susan Doucet wrote last week.

Webb did manage to make it onstage for the first Democratic debate, but he failed to improve his chances there too. He mainly distinguished himself by complaining about not getting enough time to speak, and by naming a Vietnamese soldier he killed as the "enemy" he's most proud of. Afterward, Webb complained that the debate was "rigged" in favor of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Inarguably, Webb's campaign was poorly run. But Martin O'Malley's campaign is viewed as being much more professional, and he hasn't gotten any traction either. It's instead Bernie Sanders who has emerged as Clinton's main challenger, and he did so by winning the enthusiasm of the left, not by being a moderate or a mainstream alternative.

Webb may consider running as an independent — but would likely be even less successful in that

Back when Webb started exploring his run, he acknowledged that he was facing "what many commentators consider nearly impossible odds." Now, as he prepares for to quit the Democratic race, he's dangling the possibility of running as an independent — which would of course have even lower odds of success.

At his press conference, Webb said that what he did next "will depend on what support I am shown in the coming weeks," in conversations with Americans. But he outlined his frustration with the two-party system, and stressed that he wanted to remain part of the conversation about America's future.

To mount a national run, Webb would somehow have to qualify for the ballot in 50 states — an expensive and difficult process. And the performance of his campaign during its three-and-a-half-month life does not inspire confidence that he'll pull it off.

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