Virginia Sen. Jim Webb said Wednesday that he will not seek re-election, increasing the chances that Republicans will be able to take the seat back from Democrats in the 2012 election.
Mr. Webb's announcement was not entirely unexpected, given that the decorated Marine and former Navy secretary has never been fond of the glad-handing and fundraising involved in running a statewide campaign, and because he supported some of his party's more controversial policies, which haunted them in the 2010 election.
Still, Mr. Webb's decision puts Democrats in a pickle and without a clear replacement heading into the 2012 election where they hope to make a comeback from the "shellacking" they took at the polls in November, but where they'll have more Senate seats to defend than their GOP counterparts.
"After much thought and consideration, I have decided to return to the private sector, where I have spent most of my professional life, and will not seek re-election in 2012," Mr. Webb said in a statement, in which he promised to continue to push for reforms to the criminal justice system and for stronger relations in East Asia and Southeast Asia during the remaining 23 months in his term.
While the decision was viewed as bad news for Senate Democrats, who hold a slim 53-47 margin in the upper chamber, political pundits agreed it was great news for George Allen, the former Virginia governor and senator who held the seat for a term before Mr. Webb narrowly defeated him in 2006.
"It makes it much easier for Republicans to pick up because right now there is not a clear front-running Democrat to try to keep that seat," said Mark Rozell, a political science professor at George Mason University. "Probably, the happiest guy in Virginia right now is George Allen."
"I'm convinced we will have a strong candidate and ultimate Democratic successor to Sen. Webb," said Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Brian Moran.
Mr. Webb, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat, changed the political landscape in 2006 when his early opposition to the Iraq War morphed into a long-shot Senate bid. Mr. Webb campaigned on a promise to fight for economic fairness and in a pair of his son's combat boots — he, too, served in the Marines.
But the race was perhaps best remembered for a videotape in which Mr. Allen called a Webb aide of Indian descent "macaca," a slur in some cultures.
The response to the tape helped Mr. Webb erase a 30-point lead in the polls and emerge victorious, helping give Democrats the 60-seat majority that allowed them to control the agenda in the upper chamber.
President Obama released a statement Wednesday applauding Mr. Webb's time in the Senate, singling out his signature legislative achievement, the passage of enhanced educational benefits for members of the armed services.
"Jim has been a relentless advocate for our veterans who helped to pass the post-9/11 GI Bill; a strong voice for American leadership in the world who strengthened our relationships in Southeast Asia; and a leading reformer who is improving our criminal justice system," Mr. Obama said.
But Mr. Webb also had his critics, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), who often criticized his votes for the health care overhaul and stimulus package, and to advance the Climate Security Act of 2008, a bill that directed the Environmental Protection Agency to establish a program to decrease emissions of greenhouse gases.
Those same three issues helped Republicans take control of the House and pick up six seats in the Senate the November elections.
Attention now turns to Democrats' search for a potential replacement.
Many Democrats hope that Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a former Virginia governor, will consider a bid for the seat, given his previous success in statewide races. But Mr. Kaine has expressed little interest in serving in the Senate.
Asked about the possibility of Mr. Kaine rethinking a run, Mr. Moran answered, "At this time, I think everyone has to re-evaluate their positions on this race now that the senator has decided not to run." Mr. Moran is a former state delegate from Alexandria and a 2009 gubernatorial-primary candidate.
Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the NRSC, said that Democrats "will have a great difficulty finding an electable candidate for this open seat, as Virginians continue to reject their agenda of higher taxes and reckless spending."
"We can only hope that Democrats succeed in recruiting President Obama's No. 1 cheerleader in Washington — Tim Kaine," he said.
But Republicans still have some questions to answer, as Mr. Allen faces opposition from Jamie Radtke, a tea party member who already has begun to challenge Mr. Allen's record on spending in Congress.
Mo Elleithee, a Democratic strategist, said that anybody who is "writing off this seat for Democrats doesn't know Virginia" and overlooking the fact that Mr. Allen has to survive a party primary.
"He is going to have to run to the right to placate the tea party crowd, and Virginians typically don't like far-right candidates for statewide elections," he said.
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.