Former U.S. senator Jim Webb will decide in the next few days whether he is running for president, he said Tuesday at a presidential forum in Baltimore.
Webb, who represented Virginia for a single term in the Senate, told the National Sheriffs’ Association that he expected to be “very busy over the next week” and later clarified to reporters that he would announce his plans “within the next few days.”
His discussion with the organization showed both the appeal and the limitations of a Webb candidacy.
The Democrat spoke in detail about his unsuccessful efforts in the Senate to launch a prison reform commission.
“If you’re looking for the kind of leadership that would change the national dialogue on this discussion, we’ve shown it,” Webb said. “The type of leadership that you would look for, I hope, is the type that would take on the tough issues that other people don’t want to talk about.”
Yet Webb was also combative, twice saying that the sheriffs’ association “finally” supported his legislation only in 2011. He spoke bluntly against the overmilitarization of local law enforcement agencies, saying that when police are “heavied up with basically military gear,” it sends a bad message.
“There is a difference between a police officer and a military officer,” he said.
Asked about a vote against denying funds to “sanctuary cities” for illegal immigrants, he told the questioner, “It was one of those Rush Limbaugh amendments. . . . That’s kind of absurd.”
At the same time, he put some distance between himself and President Obama on immigration, a key topic at the event. While Congress is “paralyzed” on immigration reform, he said, it was important to be “careful” on the issue.
He would not say whether, as president, he would continue Obama’s executive orders deferring deportation for some undocumented immigrants.
The hour-long event was policy-oriented; there were no applause lines or sweeping pronouncements in Webb’s remarks. About 100 sheriffs listened politely, and several stood to thank him for his service during the Vietnam War.
It remains unclear where Webb would make his announcement, should he do so this week.
He appeared close to announcing a bid in Iowa on Friday, a launch that some people close to the former senator told Fox News was scuttled only when the Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign scheduled a competing event.
Since November, when Webb formed his exploratory committee, he has been publicly indecisive about a campaign.
He could not easily attack Clinton from the left, as former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley (D) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have, although criminal justice reform provides one such opening. He has also argued that she would not aggressively take on big financial interests.
But Webb ended his appearance by saying that he was “very proud of having worked in the Reagan administration” as secretary of the Navy. He pointed out to reporters that conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer shared his view of the Confederate flag — that it shouldn’t be used as a political symbol but that good people fought on both sides. Democratic primary voters are unlikely to be impressed by those references.
Webb was the only Democratic candidate to address the forum. Republicans Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee also spoke.