Home Politicians 5 Years Later, Should We “Draft” Jim Webb Again?

5 Years Later, Should We “Draft” Jim Webb Again?


Five years ago, almost to the day, a few of us netroots troublemakers – Josh Chernila, Lee Diamond, Corey Hernandez and myself (soon joined by several others, like Mary Detweiler and Chris Ambrose) – kicked off a movement aimed at “drafting” James Webb to run for the U.S. Senate. Within a few weeks, we had collected 1,000 signatures urging Webb to run, $40,000 in pledges to his campaign, and many other private expressions of support. In the end, this effort appears to have helped persuade Webb to throw his hat in the political ring against the seemingly invincible Sen. George Allen. And, as they say, the rest is history.

Now, fast forward to today. Jim Webb has been in the U.S. Senate for nearly 4 years. In just 2 years, he’s up for reelection — and believe it or not, the guy we came to know and (not) love as “Felix Macacawitz” appears to be running again. In addition to “Felix,” there are several others who may run for the Republican nomination from Allen’s political right — astounding, given that Allen voted 97% of the time with George W. Bush — including Prince William County board chair and anti-immigrant zealot Corey Stewart, homophobe/anti-contraception/climate change denier/etc. “Sideshow Bob” Marshall, and Virginia Tea Party leader Jamie Radtke. To put it mildly, all of these candidates would be seriously flawed, and none of them exactly strike fear into Democrats’ hearts, assuming Jim Webb runs for reelection.

Which brings us back to Webb, and specifically the question, will he run for reelection? So far, the indications have been mixed: Webb has raised very little money and has a miniscule “war chest” by incumbent U.S. Senator standards; Webb continues to “[eschew] the normal aspects of politics,” as Gerry Connolly puts it; Webb has made it very clear, over and over again, that he hates campaigning (he described the end of the 2006 campaign as “like I was stepping out of a sewer”); Webb’s frustrated that his criminal justice reform commission has gotten nowhere in the Senate; and he commented recently that “I’ve spent a majority of my life outside of government…I don’t really have a game plan.”  All of that tells me that Webb is at best iffy (50/50? 40/60?) on whether he’ll run for reelection in 2012.

Given Webb’s reluctance, would a grassroots/netroots “draft” movement help persuade him, as it did in 2006, to run? Perhaps, but I’m highly skeptical that we could – or should – attempt to “draft” Jim Webb again. This flows from my understanding of the unique confluence of factors that resulted in the “draft” working in 2006.  

First, back in 2006, there was tremendous energy to tap into for Democrats and progressive activists, mostly anger at George W. Bush, the war in Iraq, and the Republicans. Today, following the 2006 and 2008 elections, that anger is mostly dissipated. Without that energy, what exactly would fuel a successful “draft” movement, let alone build a massive “ragtag army” of supporters? I’m not sure.

Second, in late 2005/early 2006, Jim Webb was a fresh, exciting figure on the scene: a “real American hero” who had spoken out forcefully against the Iraq war; a “Jacksonian populist” on economic policy (“the health of a society should be measured at its base, not at its apex”); a libertarian in many ways on social issues (government shouldn’t come in your front door unless there’s an “overriding reason to do do”); a man with strong family roots in Appalachia, yet a home in populous northern Virginia; etc. Today, in contrast, Webb has many votes under his belt and has been through the “sausage factory,” aka “the making of legislation,” that we  know and love as our Congress.  Lots of shades of gray, lots of votes on bills that weren’t exactly “Jacksonian populist” or whatever. In other words, it’s a lot more complicated today than it was in 2006.

Third, because of Webb’s many votes on specific issues (e.g., energy and environment are of particular concern to people like Miles and me), the progressive grassroots/netroots – which was very much open to Webb’s candidacy in 2006, and in the end supported it with $4 million in online fundraising and an enormous (12,000?) “ragtag army” of volunteers – is no longer a big fan of Webb’s. In fact, go to Daily Kos and mention Webb’s name, and you’re far more likely to be greeted with hostility and questions of “why the hell did we support him in 2006?!?” than with enthusiasm, love, or support. In 2006, I felt like I was pushing on a wide-open door as I went about promoting Jim Webb’s candidacy in the “leftosphere.” Today, it would be extremely difficult – although perhaps not impossible – to do that again.

Fourth, related to the previous point, my guess is that a 2012 campaign by Webb would be of an almost completely different character – far more “top down,” far less “grassroots” or a “movement” – than the 2006 campaign. How would a “draft” or a “ragtag army” fit into that paradigm? I’m not sure.

It’s also important to point out that a Webb candidacy would have some major advantages this time around, and thus would need a “draft” movement far, far less than in 2006. For starters, we wouldn’t have to convince a skeptical Democratic establishment that the former Reagan Navy Secretary even really is a Democrat. And we wouldn’t have to convince Webb that he’d be accepted by the Democratic Party – establishment, activists, whoever. That was one of Webb’s two main concerns in 2006, the other being the need to raise millions of dollars.  Speaking of which; as an incumbent U.S. Senator, Webb could certainly crank up fundraising quickly, and certainly wouldn’t be starting off again with “no money and no staff,” as he puts it.  Webb also would begin this time around with an almost universal name ID in Virginia, unlike in 2006, when we had to introduce him to voters (although that can cut both ways in politics). And this time, we would start against George Allen – assuming he’s the nominee – with “macaca,” with the “deer head in a black family’s mailbox” story, with his “frequent use of the ‘n word’ in college,” with the Conservative Citizens Council connection, with his 97% voting with George W. Bush, etc., etc.  Finally, Webb has accomplishments as a U.S. Senator he can point to, starting with the modern-day GI Bill, and continuing on to his work at “reorienting U.S. foreign policy” and generally being an expert on military/national security issues in the Senate.

The bottom line of all this? Today, Jim Webb’s in pretty good shape politically – far stronger than he was in 2006, when Steve Jarding famously gave Webb a 15% chance of winning – if he decides to run for reelection. But will he? Who knows. And would a “draft” help to make up his mind? I doubt it, given all the points raised above.  But you never know, and I’d love to hear the counterargument. Have at it in the comments section!

P.S. I’m going to wait to hear what Jim Webb decides, and if the answer is “no,” seriously think of starting a “Draft Tom Perriello” movement for 2012! 🙂

  • Paradox13VA

    Lowell, thanks for this review and analysis. I totally agree. For all my frustration with some of Webb’s votes, I would strongly support his running for re-election. He’s the first candidate I ever volunteered for, so I’m definitely working form a personal bias, but on the whole I feel that the good outweighs the bad (DADT vote and Health Care votes count for a lot to me), and his willingness to tilt at the income inequality and criminal justice reform windmills from the Senate pulpit are worth keeping around.

    Besides, we’re far stronger electing friends and then influencing them with conversations and pressure than allowing the election of people who would never take our phone calls at all (Republicans).

    Thank you Sen. Webb, for your service. Please run again.

  • Say What

    great on many levels and of all the politicians on the Virginia scene, he may be the most inspiring – certainly the most trustworthy. This last election cycle proved beyond a shadow of doubt that Tom held great “Courage for his Convictions”.

    And certainly that can be said of Jim Webb …. in fact I think it’s taken for granted. Often overlooked is that Webb is his “own man” and very independent… to chagrin of some here at Blue Virginia.

    Jim Webb may be frustrated with lack of movement on his judicial reform initiative though it received bipartisan support. I believe he’ll run again … if only to get that done.

    My hope for the new year …. and the next two years is that the President take the initiative on a host of “reform” issues with Webb’s being at the top of the list. Tax Reform, Deficit reduction, Financial reform …. all are areas where the President and the Democratic Party can initiate and steal the issue from the Right Wing Ideologues influencing the Republican Party.

    Against the wishes of the Progressive Left …. Obama took the initiative to broker a short term deal (on the tax package) and the windfall of his leadership initiative … is repeal of DADT, ratification of START … extension of unemployment benefits, etc.

    Obama has a key “State of the Union” address to give …. and in that address I hope he takes the lead again and push the above reform agendas.


    will only support Webb if we can’t get a real progressive to run—and that’s not likely. I sm also not sure Webb could beat macaca. Georgie is still pretty popular and high profile unlike Webb. And I’m not sure anyone would want to primary Webb.

  • MorrisMeyer

    Jim Webb has had the courage to throw himself at a seemingly intractable problem with criminal justice reform.  This shows that his Jacksonian populism is still alive and well.

    This very early Webb supporter (pledged $$ to the draft) would like to see him take on the intractable problem of climate change.

    Legislative warts and all, Jim is a “known good” and I would be glad to work and donate to him again.

    If he doesn’t run drafting Tom Perriello works for me.

  • The Donkey

    Yes OF COURSE we should be trying to draft Senator Webb again.

    Your analysis confuses the separate questions of: 1. could we succeed in convincing Webb to run; and 2. should we try to convince Webb to run, given his performance so far.

    On question 1, the only honest answer is “we don’t know.” Webb is definitely his own man and will make his own decisions. However, he has been persuaded by reason before, and I suspect that if we try again, he may hear the battle cry and be moved by it. What do we have to lose?

    On question 2, there really is no doubt.

    In regard to the politics, Webb would perform stronger against Allen than anyone else, including Periello: I suspect that this time Webb will really take Allen to the woodshed. With Webb as our candidate, and the same old Allen on the other side, the narrative works decidedly in our favor.

    In regard to the policy, Webb has been an innovator on the GI bill, has raised new issues in regard to prisoners, has been irreplacable on foreign policy issues like Myanamar/Burma, and has generally performed so well that I sometimes tear up when I listen to him.

    True, there is the coal industry problem, and that is a problem for me too. But Webb has negotiated these dangerous waters with some aplumb, and kept his coalition together. This is where he has shown his Jacksonian philosophy more than anywhere else (recognizing that of the many things that Andrew Jackson was, he was certainly not a “nice” guy. (How do you think that Jackson would have responded to “cap and trade?”)). I appreciate Webb’s subtlety here far more than the pander bear attitude of another Senator from Virginia.

    The KOS crowd are a bunch of whiners. What matters now is what the Brigades crowd thinks, and the Brigades crowd is ready to go to the trenches again the moment the bugle sounds. You need to hibernate the damn computer more Lowell, and go to more Brigades meetings.

    Finally, there is US. It is hard to think of a time in my life that I had more fun than when I was running around Virginia with antique guns and a donkey costume working my ass off with people like you for Jim Webb. Do you remember those times, Lowell? Don’t you think that it is time for a rerun?

    And finally, there is the professional staff. Yes, that might be a problem, but do I really need to remind you that in 2006, you were one of them?

    The volunteer corps has power now. We should respect the professional staff, but at the same time, we should not be afraid to use our power, make demands, and be ready to push when an innovative idea like the “Webb wagon” comes along. Ultimately, we can also tell the professionals to stuff it, and advocate the way we want: — Sportsmen for Webb; Lawyers for Webb; Real Virginians for Webb; Rockers for Webb — Josh helped with all of that stuff, but mainly, by getting out of the way and letting us rock on!

    So I say lets get the petition started; lets get the “Born Fighting signs printed; lets get fired up and ready to go –



  • Tom
  • Steve Vaughan

    … that Webb would be the strongest possible Dem candidate against Allen (if he’s the Republican nominee, which is far from a sure thing). He’s got a record of legislative accomplishment to put up against Allen’s record of six years in the Senate filling a chair and twiddling his thumbs while he waited to run for president.