The Campaign Spot

Is Virginia Sen. Jim Webb Going to Run for Reelection?

A former Virginia Democratic-party chair and a GMU professor take to the pages of Politico to contend that Sen. Jim Webb (D., Va.) is certain to run for reelection. And they cite . . . er . . . North Korea?

One unintended result of the crisis in North Korea is this: freshman Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) has now decided to run for reelection. 

True, he doesn’t know it yet. And more true, Steve Jarding, a smart guy and Webb’s top political strategist, is surely right when he says that Webb is going to make up his mind his way and in his own time.  We couldn’t agree more. Webb is going to be Webb — the Frank “I Did It My Way” Sinatra of the Senate. 

But that doesn’t change reality: Webb is going to run. The North Koreans sealed that deal. With Webb’s extensive military background and expertise, as well as his deep knowledge of Asian Pacific affairs, among his colleagues in the Senate, the freshman senator is uniquely positioned to play a leading role on the key issues confronting Washington and the international community in the next few years. 

Er . . . perhaps. But the questions of whether Webb is going to run are starting to get ubiquitous, and there are several factors that argue against a Webb bid:

1) Virginia is a much redder state than the last time Webb ran. It’s easy to forget, Webb won by only 9,000 votes, about four-tenths of one percent, in a phenomenally good year for Democrats. It’s likely Webb would have fallen short if Allen hadn’t imploded with “macaca” and the Washington Post hadn’t hammered the GOP incumbent every chance it got. The Democrats’ surge in Virginia continued with Obama’s win here in 2008, but the following year Bob McDonnell won the governor’s race by the widest margin of any Republican in state history, and the GOP picked up six seats in the House of Delegates. This year Republicans beat three Democrat incumbents in the U.S. House (Glenn Nye, Tom Perriello, Rick Boucher) and nearly knocked off a fourth (Gerry Connolly). The mood of Virginia could change between now and Election Day 2012, but Webb probably won’t face as favorable a political environment as he did in 2006.

2) Webb’s fundraising has been terrible for an incumbent approaching a competitive race. He has $471,080 in cash on hand. Democratic strategists are already complaining about Webb acting like he doesn’t want the job.

3) Webb’s 2006 run was fueled by two major factors: vehement opposition to the Iraq War and all-around outrage over George W. Bush. (Recall Webb began his time as senator by speaking about how he wanted to punch Bush at the White House party.) Today the Iraq War is winding down and George W. Bush is now selling his memoirs. Webb may feel like he’s largely done what he wanted to do in the Senate.

4) It’s not like this would be the first time Webb surprised everyone by walking away from a high-profile Washington position. His resignation as secretary of the Navy took everyone by surprise; President Reagan wrote in his diary, “I don’t think Navy was sorry to see him go.”

A survey from Public Policy Polling put Webb narrowly ahead of George Allen in a hypothetical rematch among registered voters. Obviously, if he does run, Webb will not be easily beaten by Allen or any other Republican. But he’ll clearly be among the GOP’s top targets in 2012, and he won’t be a blank slate, appealing to such a broad spectrum; he’ll have to justify votes for Obamacare and other initiatives unpopular in increasingly red Virginia.

Or he may avoid the whole contest.

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