- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2015

Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb said Sunday that he will run for president in 2016 if he can be convinced that he can compete financially without selling out on the core issues he wants to push on the campaign trail.

The decorated Vietnam veteran and former Navy secretary, who has flirted with a White House run since November, said Sunday on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” that he is still trying to figure out if he could launch a viable bid.

“We’re listening, talking to people, about the issues, but also having to make a judgment about whether you can actually put together the type of funding to compete and still be independent,” Mr. Webb said, adding that he would enter the race “under the right circumstances.”

Mr. Webb, 69, is considered a long-shot for the Democratic nomination, with polls showing former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton well ahead of potential rivals, including Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

“It’s impossible to overstate how difficult it will be for a non-Hillary Clinton candidate to gain traction, donor money and endorsements the later we get in the cycle and the more her nomination feels like a fait accompli,” said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer. “But to the extent there’s room in the Democratic primary, it’s to the left of Clinton — not a space Webb naturally occupies.”

“And the rationale he’s identified for his candidacy — the need for the Democratic Party to fix its problem with white working class people — isn’t as much of an issue with Clinton or Elizabeth Warren, who tend to resonate with those audiences, much more so than Obama ever did,” Ms. Setzer said. “If Webb can gain any traction, he’ll need to carve out space on an issue Clinton’s not talking about or can’t talk about.”

Mr. Webb shook up Washington in 2006 when he came from behind in Virginia’s U.S. Senate race to topple Republican Sen. George Allen, helping Democrats regain control of the Senate.

Sporting his son’s combat boots on the campaign trail, Mr. Webb, a Republican-turned-Democrat who opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, called for a more clearly articulated foreign policy and for more economic fairness.

In the Senate, Mr. Webb muscled through a new GI Bill and led efforts on criminal justice reform. He also voted for the Wall Street bailout, known as TARP, as well as Obamacare.

“I believe we did need to move forward,” Mr. Webb said Sunday about his Obamacare vote. “The benefits in the bill were better then voting it down.”

Mr. Webb chose not to run for re-election in 2012, and last year released a book — his ninth — titled “I Heard My Country Calling.”

Mr. Webb said Sunday that the nation needs leadership, and warned the nation’s approach to international affairs and the use of military focus has “become extremely vague.”

“This notion of ‘responsibility to protect’ or ‘humanitarian intervention’ — it is not clear. The president could do that on Ireland tomorrow for all we know. it is a very loose doctrine and it is not healthy for the country,” the former senator said.

Mr. Webb said elected leaders must strengthen the nation’s immigration system by stemming the flow of illegal immigrants into the country and providing a path to citizenship for those who have been in the country 10 to 15 years and meet a certain set of criteria, such as learning English.

In addition, Mr. Webb said wealthy donors have an outsized influence on the political process.

“The power of the people who have made enormous wealth in the country to control the political process is obvious. It’s obvious,” he said. “And what happens to the average American who wants to vote for someone who wants to bring about change?”

Democratic strategist Jim Manley said he is a “big fan” of Mr. Webb, adding that it would be interesting to see how willing the combat veteran is to embrace the retail side of presidential politics.

“By all accounts, he really wasn’t having a lot of fun in the Senate,” Mr. Manley said. “So I am not sure how much fun he is going to have on the campaign trail.”

“Based on what I have seen over the years, he would be one of the more unorthodox candidates we have seen in many years,” the strategist said. “He marches to the beat of his own drummer, and I don’t expect that to change.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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