- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2007

On the Virginia campaign trail last fall, someone close to Senate candidate James H. Webb Jr. suggested that the Democrat wants to be president.

The Virginian went on to unseat Sen. George Allen, a Republican, have a confrontation with President Bush in the White House over the Iraq war and be chosen by his party to deliver a rebuttal to Mr. Bush’s State of the Union address tonight.

If Mr. Webb, 60, does have presidential ambitions, they are far from public knowledge. Still, the decorated Vietnam veteran has emerged as a leading voice on the Iraq war, especially since his own son is a lance corporal stationed in Ramadi.

The senator declined to speak about Lance Cpl. Jimmy Webb’s service, but said his response will have an emphasis on Iraq.

“My speech will highlight areas where Democrats in Congress have different priorities,” Mr. Webb said yesterday.

“I will be speaking for the Democratic Party .. but I do not intend to deliver a particularly partisan speech,” he said. “That part of the campaign is over. Now is the time for governing.”

Mr. Webb has given no indication that he wants the White House job, but he has been characterized as unafraid to speak his mind and uninterested in playing nice for the sake of civility.

At a White House reception for new members of Congress, Mr. Webb and Mr. Bush had a tense exchange.

When the president asked Mr. Webb, “How’s your boy?” the newly elected Democrat responded by telling Mr. Bush that he wanted U.S. troops out of Iraq.

“That’s not what I asked,” Mr. Bush said, repeating, “How’s your boy?”

“That’s between me and my boy, Mr. President,” said Mr. Webb, an early critic of the Iraq war who wore his son’s combat boots for the duration of his Senate campaign.

The Hill newspaper reported that Mr. Webb was “tempted to slug” Mr. Bush. A Roll Call cartoon depicted the Virginian punching a Bush stand-in under the headline, “The Democrats’ Response, delivered by Senator Jim Webb.”

Beyond delivering a nationally televised response to a major presidential policy speech, Mr. Webb has maintained a low profile on Capitol Hill. He still refuses to discuss his son’s deployment, saying yesterday: “I’m a public figure but I’m also a father. It’s simply personal.”

His son adopts a similar tone.

“I never asked to be in the public eye,” Cpl. Webb writes on his MySpace blog. “All I want to do is my job as a Marine, and get home with all my friends. I guess it’s nice that a senator’s son is serving in Iraq, in my opinion there should be more.”

Cpl. Webb, 24, was quoted recently on a Marine Web site saying, “I was raised to be a warrior.”

Mr. Webb yesterday said his speech, which he is writing himself, will reprise some of his campaign themes of economic fairness and a need to “reorient” national security policy.

Though in the majority party, Mr. Webb ranks well below most of his colleagues in seniority. At a recent Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Mr. Webb quietly waited his turn and was the last member to question generals about war policy.

The Republicans on the committee had departed, and more senior Democrats such as Sen. Barbara Boxer of California were allowed to speak first, even though Mr. Webb had been sitting at the dais through the entire hearing. As he waited, his face set in a frown, Mr. Webb took notes and leaned back in his leather chair.

“I am the last person between these people and lunch,” he said, gesturing to the military officials and chuckling. He kept his remarks short, talking about the difference between physical courage and moral courage.

He praised retired Gen. Joseph P. Hoar for “speaking up about this early,” saying the general’s position would “stand as a mark when history looks at where we have gone and how we hopefully will get out of this in a way that regains our national esteem around the world.”

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