Former U.S. Senator Jim Webb of Greater Falls Church, coming out of a year-long hibernation since giving over his Senate seat in early 2013, made his first public appearance in Arlington last week, speaking to a capacity crowd at the Arlington Public Library. He sent the crowd buzzing about openly equivocal thoughts he expressed about running for President of the U.S. in 2016.
Webb invited and clearly did not shy away from discussing the prospect and the audience broke into applause as it heard him warming up to the idea.
Webb was there to talk about his new book, I Heard My Country Calling, a memoir of the early periods of his life.
He said he vowed to step away from the public spotlight for a year after leaving the U.S. Senate, where he served a single six-year term after pulling a major upset to win the seat in 2006.
A former U.S. Secretary of the Navy and prolific writer (his newest is his 10th book), Webb spoke for a half-hour last Thursday and took another half hour of questions.
He said that his latest hiatus is the fourth time he’s been in public service and then taken time off. It was in that context that he suggested he wasn’t done with such public service.
Some in the audience saw Webb’s consideration of a presidential run coming, since he’d made similar equivocal comments on a popular public radio talk show the previous week.
Then, among a spate of TV interview appearances about his new book last weekend, Webb was asked about the idea of a presidential run in response to a strangely-negative question from CNN’s Candy Crowley. “One of those long, lonely runs for the presidency doesn’t intrigue you at all?,” Crowley asked. “We’re taking it one day at a time. We’re happy to be back in the discussion, that’s the main thing,” Webb responded.
Without taking any such comments further, it would be assumed that if Webb did run, it would be in the Democratic primaries against, principally, Hillary Clinton.
This week, Webb issued a blast e-mail to his supporter list under the title of his “Born Fighting Political Action Committee.” He wrote, “Now I am ready to re-enter the debate,” adding, “In recent years, political arguments in this country have become ever more extreme and unproductive, long on speeches and short on results…It doesn’t mean that this has to be the case. The results we were able to accomplish during my time in the Senate prove it.”
Webb’s military background served him well when he surprised everyone in 2006 with his campaign to win the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate from Virginia. He ran against a Democratic machine fixture, lobbyist Harris Miller, who was a place-holder chosen because he was able to bankroll his own campaign in what was considered an unwinnable race against then incumbent and prime GOP presidential hopeful George Allen.
Skeptical Democrats were leery of Webb, including Miller who spent $1 million, according to reports, questioning the depth of Webb’s loyalty to the Democratic Party. (He’d served as an assistant secretary of defense and briefly as Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, and as Webb told his audience last week, he sat in on secret top level meetings with Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger for four years).
But Webb not only won the primary, he did what no one believed possible by upsetting Allen, although by the narrowest of margins, and served his six years in the U.S. Senate with distinction, winning the respect and praise of his Democratic colleagues. He was touted as a leader on issues of national defense, foreign policy and economic fairness.
He expressed pride in his first legislative success, a new “Post-9/11 GI Bill” that he introduced on his first day in office and worked hard with colleagues across the aisle to vote into law.
Webb, who considered himself primarily a journalist and author before his election to the U.S. Senate, has lived near Lake Barcroft section of Greater Falls Church where he and wife Hong Le, born in Vietnam and a graduate of Cornell Law School, raised six children, including ones who graduated from J.E.B. Stuart High School.