Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb has become the first potential candidate to take an official step toward entering the 2016 presidential race, launching a website (Webb2016.com) and an “exploratory committee” that will allow him to raise (and spend) money while he decides whether to put together a full campaign.
A letter from Webb posted on his website mentions his service in the Marine Corps and bemoans the economic inequality that he says is undermining the United States’ ideals:
We haven’t been perfect and from time to time, as with today, we have drifted to the fringes of allowing the very inequalities that our Constitution was supposed to prevent. Walk into some of our inner cities if you dare, and see the stagnation, poverty, crime, and lack of opportunity that still affects so many African Americans. Or travel to the Appalachian Mountains, where my own ancestors settled and whose cultural values I still share, and view the poorest counties in America – who happen to be more than 90 percent White, and who live in the reality that “if you’re poor and White you’re out of sight.”
(If you dare!)
Webb served in the Senate from 2007 to 2013 and did not run for re-election. He’s the author of a number of books, both fiction and nonfiction, has a law degree from Georgetown, and has gone in and out of politics, working in several government positions—including as the secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan. (He also has a screenwriting credit on the 2000 movie Rules of Engagement, which starred Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones.) As the excerpt above indicates, his rural roots are a major part of his public identity; his potential appeal to the white working class would presumably be an asset to a national campaign.
Another big part of Webb’s identity throughout his career, the New Republic’s Jason Zengerle wrote recently, has been anger—Webb was motivated during his 2006 Senate run by the Bush administration’s poor handling of the Iraq war and has aggressively criticized Obama’s continued “entanglements” in the Middle East while considering the 2016 presidential race. But: “Once the proximate cause of Webb’s anger is resolved and his frustration dissipates, so does Webb’s interest in politics,” Zengerle writes about the Virginian, wondering if outrage alone will be enough to sustain his interest in a long presidential campaign. As of today, we’re about to find out.