By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
U.S. Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) announced yesterday that he will not seek a place on the Democratic ticket next to Sen. Barack Obama, ending months of speculation that he was a front-runner for the vice presidential nomination.
Webb told Obama (D-Ill.) last week that "under no circumstances" would he consider the vice presidency, according to a statement issued yesterday. Webb said he will campaign for Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.
Webb said he does not want to slow his momentum in the Senate, where he has served for 18 months and racked up a string of successes, including the recent passage of a landmark new GI bill.
"I entered elective politics because of my commitment to strengthen America's national security posture, to promote economic fairness and to increase government accountability," Webb said. "I have worked hard to deliver upon that commitment, and I am convinced that my efforts and talents toward those ends are best served in the Senate."
Webb's ascension in the Senate since his upset victory over Republican George F. Allen in 2006 has given him a national profile on political talk shows and in news magazines and made him a regular mention in discussions about Obama's possible pick for the vice presidency.
A former Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan, a military veteran and a writer who has explored his Scots-Irish heritage in Appalachia, Webb, 62, is widely viewed as a politician who could appeal to veterans, the rural working class and swing voters.
For that reason, his withdrawal yesterday came as a surprise and disappointment to some of his friends.
"He would have been a terrific complement to Barack Obama," said U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.). "He understands and cares so much about the working class of America. He just wrote a terrific book for fairness and justice. He had just gotten the GI bill enacted. He's a patriot, and he had an excellent article on the front cover of Parade magazine. He has a substantial amount of support and recognition throughout the country."
Even Republicans saw Webb as a potentially formidable presence on a national ticket.
"As a former Republican, a former secretary of the Navy, a combat-decorated Marine who is pro-Second Amendment, a pro-hunting Democrat, that could appeal to a lot of southern states," said Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick (Prince William), chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia.
Others viewed Webb's withdrawal as a natural decision for someone they see as an iconoclast and independent-minded leader who might have struggled in the role of second in command but who has demonstrated a knack for success in the Senate.
"He's off to a marvelous start as a senator," said Thomas E. Mann, a congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution. "He's an exceedingly interesting political figure as well, and I expect him to be a very consequential player in the Senate for some time."
Webb was one of three Virginia Democrats named as a possible vice presidential nominee, which points to the state party's recent success promoting moderate Democrats with broad appeal in a historically conservative state. It also underscores Virginia's changing political landscape, mostly from the large number of moderate Democrat-leaning voters near Washington. Virginia is viewed as a state in play in a presidential contest between Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee.
Former governor Mark R. Warner withdrew from contention as a possible vice presidential choice to focus on his campaign for U.S. Senate against James S. Gilmore III, also a former governor.
Both are seeking to replace retiring Sen. John W. Warner (R). National Democrats consider the race a prime opportunity to gain another seat in the Senate.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who has supported Obama for president since early in the campaign, is also mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate. Kaine, like Warner, is valuable to Democrats where he is. If Kaine stepped down, Virginia's lieutenant governor, Bill Bolling (R), would become governor.
Kaine has not said whether he would consider the vice presidency, but he has said he planned to finish his term, which ends in 2010.