Jim Webb all but launches presidential bid. Does he have a chance?

The former Secretary of the Navy and Virginia senator launched a new campaign website Wednesday. Can Jim Webb give Hillary Rodham Clinton a run for her money?

Steve Helber/AP/File
Now retired Sen. Jim Webb, (D) of Va., speaks during a rally for President Barack Obama in Virginia Beach, Va., Sept. 27, 2012. Webb said Sept. 23, he is 'seriously looking' at a Democratic presidential campaign in 2016, a move that could create a challenge to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton if she seeks the White House again.

Former Secretary of the Navy and Virginia Sen. Jim Webb (D) made it official on Wednesday night: He’s setting up a presidential campaign exploratory committee. That makes him the first potential candidate of either party to take this important procedural step.

The former senator announced the move via a video and letter posted on his new campaign website. In terms of his political positioning, he seems to be attempting to make two points: 1) He’s bipartisan, having served as Secretary of the Navy in Ronald Reagan’s Cabinet, and as a Democratic senator from 2007 to 2013. 2) He’s a progressive, in the sense that he’s focused on economic problems of the middle and lower classes, and dislikes Wall Street.

“We have drifted to the fringes of allowing the very inequalities that our Constitution was supposed to prevent,” he writes in his announcement letter.

Does he have a chance? Welllll ... no. Not really, if former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) runs, which looks all but certain at the moment.

Some commentators think Webb might fit into a niche to Ms. Clinton’s left, given his populist bent. His economic views seem similar to those of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts, the populist who’s resisting calls to jump into the race.

Unlike Clinton, Webb opposed the Iraq War from the start. He’s opposed pretty much every US intervention in the Middle East’s crescent of turmoil since then. And he’s a former Marine platoon commander, a decorated Vietnam vet who’s worked as a high Pentagon official.

“Webb could be a Warren, but with more gravitas,” writes Ed Morrissey at Hot Air.

But let’s not kid ourselves – Clinton is a prohibitive favorite. No Democrat comes close to matching her appeal to party voters.

“Webb’s challenge: Hillary’s fav/unfav in our new NBC/WSJ poll is 78%-5% among Dems. Not a lot of room there,” tweeted NBC News senior political editor Mark Murray on Thursday.

Plus, Webb served in former President Ronald Reagan’s Cabinet, remember. When Hillaryland is done picking over his record in serving Republicans the progressive left won’t look at him the same way.

Expect to hear more about such things as this 1979 piece in Washingtonian Magazine, in which he opposed allowing women in military combat units. It’s titled “Women Can’t Fight.”

That said, maybe Clinton stops running for some reason. Then all predictions are out the window. Webb could reposition himself as Clinton, but an ex-Marine.

Plus, the most interesting question here may be, “what’s his effect on the race?” as opposed to “can he win?”

Webb’s real profession is writer. He’s written well-reviewed novels about his Vietnam service and non-fiction about his Scotch-Irish ancestry. Like many writers, he’s quite articulate. (We first interviewed him 30 years ago, so we’ve heard this first-hand.)

In his 2006 Senate race he wasn’t the greatest glad-hander, but boy, could he give a speech. When he gets wound up he makes Newt Gingrich look like he’s searching for words. Webb in candidate debates – we’re looking forward to that. Versus Clinton? Pass the popcorn, because that will be entertaining.

His book about the Scots-Irish was titled “Born Fighting.” That might apply to him as well.

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