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