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Will Webb run again? Decision to come in early 2011

"We're going to sort this out fairly soon," Sen. James Webb said of his political future. He won his seat in 2006.
"We're going to sort this out fairly soon," Sen. James Webb said of his political future. He won his seat in 2006. (Linda Davidson)

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By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 18, 2010; 8:41 PM

James Webb often points out just how many jobs he's had in his 64 years - soldier and Navy secretary, lawyer and Hill staffer, journalist and novelist, among others. The question now worrying Democrats is just how much longer Webb wants to remain Virginia's senior U.S. senator.

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Webb's decision on whether to run for a second term in 2012 could have a big impact on whether Democrats are able to hold his seat and even control the Senate, as the party braces for a bruising election cycle in which Democrats will have to defend more than twice as many seats as Republicans.

On the Republican side, former senator George Allen is mulling over a bid, as are a few others. And Democrats are praying that Webb will run, knowing their bench of viable statewide candidates is thin. Both parties are eager to hear Webb's decision, and they won't have to wait long.

"I'm going to be sitting down with my family through this break," Webb said in a recent interview in his Senate office. "We're going to sort this out fairly soon. . . . We're looking to make a decision during the first quarter [of 2011], if I don't run, out of respect for other people."

No 'traditional' politician

Senators just completing their first term in office aren't typically viewed as prime candidates for retirement, but Webb is anything but typical.

He has no love for ribbon-cuttings or the cocktail-reception circuit. Unlike most politicians, Webb does not appear drawn to crowds and human contact. He speaks regularly of his love for writing, a solitary pursuit.

"He eschews the normal aspects of politics," Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said of Webb. "He doesn't do the networking. He doesn't show up at the expected places."

Some of his decisions, however, could cause headaches in a campaign. He voted in early December against enacting a ban on spending earmarks, breaking with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and drawing criticism from conservatives - including Allen. Webb also provoked some liberals in July by penning a Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for an end to most affirmative action programs and dismissing the "myth of white privilege."

"He's not so much a backslapper. . . ." said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.). "He's willing to take stands that other people won't. It's refreshing that he's not the traditional retail politician."

Webb is also known not to enjoy fundraising, and it shows. As of Sept. 30, he had $471,000 on hand in his campaign account. Of the 33 senators up for reelection in 2012, 23 have more cash in the bank than Webb. Warner, who doesn't face reelection until 2014, has nearly four times as much as Webb.

Those numbers have caught the eye of political professionals in both parties, because running statewide in Virginia is expensive. In their 2006 matchup, Webb spent more than $8 million and Allen spent nearly twice that amount. Warner shelled out more than $12 million for his 2008 victory.

"I just haven't done any of it," Webb said of fundraising - but he isn't concerned that he will be at a disadvantage if he decides to run.


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