Jim Webb became the first contender to formally throw his hat into the ring for 2016 this week, announcing the formation of an exploratory committee that jumpstarts his run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The question: does the former Virginia U.S. senator have any kind of real shot at getting the nomination?
A lot of ifs form the foundation of the answer.
If Hillary Clinton runs, she’s the clear Democratic frontrunner. Of course, she was that at this point in the 2008 cycle as well, when the only thing that those of us outside Illinois knew about a guy named Barack Obama was that he’d given a speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
So if Hillary runs, she’s the favorite, but she’s not indomitable. If she doesn’t run, Webb would seem to be as well-positioned as anybody else, and certainly not any less well-positioned. Joe Biden is the sitting vice president, for example, but Biden isn’t really credible as a serious presidential contender in 2016. And outside of Biden, it’s a bunch of fellow dwarves to the Snow White shadow that Clinton is currently casting on the rest of the field as the world awaits her final decision.
Let’s assume that the 98 percent likelihood that Clinton is going to run comes to materialize as expected. How does Webb fare then?
No ifs here. Webb can compete with Clinton, at least on paper. Webb has bona fides with three very different voting constituencies: military Democrats, who will like Webb for his service in Vietnam and his stint as Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration; peacenik Democrats, who will like Webb for his outspoken opposition to the Iraq war; and progressive Democrats, who will like Webb because of his work to address the widening income inequality gap.
In all three areas, Webb will clash with Clinton, who as the former Secretary of State has plenty in her record for a good opponent to exploit in the area of military matters, including her vote for the resolution authorizing the war in Iraq, and as Clinton has moved toward the center on economic issues in recent years, progressives may begin to wonder about her commitment to social-justice issues like the living wage and the safety net.
The big if here isn’t if Webb can compete on a comparison of voting records and policy stances, but rather, if he can build the kind of organization that can get his message out to voters, and get those voters mobilized and to the polls.
And this is why we see Webb going the exploratory committee route so relatively early. At this stage in the 2016 game, with an established frontrunner threatening to suck all the oxygen out of the nomination room the moment she makes her intentions known, the race is on among Democrats not named Clinton to establish themselves as the alternative, much as Obama was able to do as the months flipped on the 2007 calendar.
Webb has the voting record and the policy stances to form the foundation of a candidacy that can win a Democratic Party presidential nomination. That’s not a question at all. Can he build a winning organization? That’s a big question that we can’t answer right now, but will become apparent soon.
– Column by Chris Graham