It’s been about two weeks, since former Virginia Democratic Senator Jim Webb announced on his website that he’s running for president.
Presidential nominees used to be picked after countless votes by party leaders at smoke filled political conventions. Supporters of one candidate or another would twist arms and trade, say, a cabinet position for the support of an entire state’s votes.
In those days states would often hold out their support by endorsing a Favorite Son candidate in the first few rounds of balloting. The nominating process has evolved and party leaders don’t hold as much sway anymore, but conventional wisdom says congressional endorsements still matter. But Virginia Democrats, like Congressman Gerry Connolly, say they haven’t heard from Webb.
“I am surprised he hasn’t reached out because in some ways, it’s forced people to make a decision about next year and not to his advantage.”
Connolly says it’s particularly odd because he’s worked with Webb in the past.
“I don’t know what his thinking is. I admire Jim. I like Jim. I think he did a good job in the Senate and I certainly would be happy to talk to him. And I consider him a friend.”
And you may think a former Virginia senator would talk about his presidential race with, say, a current Virginia senator? Not the case, according to Senator Mark Warner.
“No I have not talked to Senator Webb about his choice.”
As Senator Tim Kaine hopped on a subway at the Capitol, he explained when he endorsed Hillary Clinton, Webb wasn’t even considered a potential candidate.
“Um no but by the time he declared that he was exploring it, I was already out for Hillary. So you know I went out and encouraged Secretary Clinton to run in May of 2014 I think at an event in South Carolina. He maybe two or three months later is when he said I’m thinking I’m exploring this.”
Freshman Congressman Don Beyer is also behind Clinton; partly because she was his boss when she was secretary of state and he was an ambassador in Europe.
“She was a great boss. I think you can make the really legitimate argument no person in American history has been as well prepared to be president as she: she was First Lady in the White House for 8 years, a very successful senator, an incredibly successful Secretary of State. She is very well prepared. There will be no surprises.”
Senator Warner and the rest of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation are already behind Clinton. But he says having Webb in the race is good for the party.
“I’ve endorsed Hillary for election but I think who ever emerges from the Democrat Primary process will be made stronger if you have a competitive process.”
And Congressman Bobby Scott says Webb’s message resonates, even if the former Virginia senator isn’t sharing it directly with his fellow Virginians.
“He’ll have a good campaign; I mean he has a good message. He has a strong military background, foreign affairs and he’s got a good economic message. He has proposals to study the criminal justice system, recognizing that the present criminal justice system is a mess. So he’ll have a lot to talk about but I just think most of Virginia will be with Hillary Clinton.”
So what gives? Requests for an interview with Webb or a statement from his campaign weren’t returned. But Webb may have given us a hint in his video announcing he was exploring a White House bid.
“In politics nobody owns me and I don’t owe anybody anything, except for the promise that I will work for the wellbeing of all Americans and especially those who otherwise would have no voice in the corridors of power.”
Webb is only polling in the low single digits but he is spending time with voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. Experts say his best chance to get on voter’s radars will be during the debates where he can speak directly to voters without the filter of Washington’s political class.