Webb stirs speculation over an independent presidential bid
By Evan Lips | December 28, 2015, 19:34 EDT
WASHINGTON – A flurry of social media posts put up over the Christmas weekend by Jim Webb, the former senator from Virginia who pulled out of the Democratic presidential primary race in October, led to speculation that he will re-enter the 2016 election as an independent candidate for the White House.
On Sunday, the National Review’s John Fund wrote that Webb’s hint in November about mounting an independent bid “looks more likely now” after the Virginian ripped into Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, over the former First Lady’s poor leadership during her stint as Secretary of State during President Barack Obama’s first term.
Fund’s article followed a story in the Washington Examiner on Saturday and another from from Bloomberg News that both picked up on Webb’s pointed comments, in which he also criticizes the Democratic Party and Obama as well as Clinton:
Hillary Clinton’s failed vision in Libya & the Arab Spring are foreign policy leadership at its worst. https://t.co/NC80rbKLfP
— Jim Webb (@JimWebbUSA) Dec. 26, 2015
The hashtag #WebbNation also began to appear more often on Twitter last week. Arguably even more telling is the fact that Webb used Twitter on Dec. 23 to urge on his supporters:
— Jim Webb (@JimWebbUSA) Dec. 23, 2015
Almost all of Webb’s Twitter posts direct viewers to his Facebook page, where he expounds on his criticisms of Clinton, Obama and the party.
Another clue hinting at an independent run is a post that appeared earlier this month on Facebook’s “Hawaii for Jim Webb” page.
“VOLUNTEERS are starting to mobilize from all across the Nation in anticipation of an INDEPENDENT Presidential Run from former Virginia Senator the HONORABLE James H. Webb,” the post says.
Webb’s campaign website, webb2016.com, also remains active. On Sunday, links to four different stories about a potential independent bid by the former senator appeared there. Before Sunday, the last new post placed on the site was published on Nov. 4.
Webb dropped out of the Democratic primary race a week after the party’s first debate. During that Democratic National Committee-sponsored event, Webb spent the brunt of his scarce speaking time complaining that he wasn’t receiving a fair share of attention.
Days before he officially pulled out of the race, Webb said the debate “was rigged in terms of who was going to get the time on the floor” in an appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
His complaints centered on the debate format and moderator Anderson Cooper’s pattern of selecting specific candidates to “supposedly respond to something someone else said,” which Webb said worked to silence him. Along with Webb, the debate featured four other candidates, including Clinton, Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee.
Clinton enjoyed the most time on camera, a combined 30 minutes and 25 seconds. Sanders clocked 27 minutes and 41 seconds. O’Malley, who has claimed that the party’s leaders have rigged the nomination process in Clinton’s favor, got 17 minutes and 8 seconds. Webb had 15 minutes and 20 seconds.
Chafee, who dropped out days after Webb, received the least amount of time, at 9 minutes and 5 seconds.
If Webb does mount an independent presidential campaign, it remains to be seen who would be the most adversely affected among the major-party candidates.
Jumping the party ship wouldn’t be a new trick for Webb, who served as Republican President Ronald Reagan’s Navy secretary in the 1980s. He was registered as a Republican from 1984 to 2006, then switched parties to run for the Senate as a Democrat against incumbent George Allen, a Republican.
Webb narrowly managed to upset Allen.
The potential for a slim margin to decide the 2016 presidential election is also strong, at least at this early stage in the process. The latest poll numbers from RealClearPolitics.com suggest the two major party leaders, Clinton and Donald Trump, the New York billionaire and reality television star, would be a relatively close match. On Monday, Rasmussen Reports released results of a national poll showing that show Clinton and Trump running neck-and-neck.
“If the 2016 presidential election was held today, 37 percent of likely U.S. voters would vote for Clinton, while 36 percent would vote for Trump,” Rasmussen said in a statement about the results. “A sizable 22 percent would choose some other candidate, while 5 percent are undecided.”
A strong independent candidate could significantly affect the outcome of a close 2016 presidential election, if recent history is any guide. Ralph Nader’s Green Party campaign on 2000 may have drawn enough Florida voters away from Democrat Al Gore to hand the election to Republican George W. Bush. The Texan beat then-vice president Gore by a mere 537 votes, after all the hanging chads settled. Nader picked up 97,421 votes there.
While some analysts say another Texan, billionaire businessman H. Ross Perot, drew support equally from Democrats and Republicans in the 1992 presidential election, Trump has indicated he believes all Perot’s votes came at the expense of George H.W. Bush.
“Virtually every one of his 19 percentage points came from the Republicans,” Trump said in an interview published in the Washington Examiner. “If Ross Perot didn’t run, you have never heard of Bill Clinton.”
Based on the raw numbers, Perot pulled in enough support – more than 19.7 million votes – to have made the difference, at least in terms of the popular vote, for either Clinton or Bush, who got 44.9 million and 39.1 million votes, respectively. Clinton won 43 percent of the total votes cast to Bush’s 37 percent.
Craig Crawford, Webb’s chief campaign spokesman, told CNN last month that the Virginian ordered campaign aides to produce a feasibility study by year-end aimed at determining how to secure a place on enough state ballots to establish a mathematical chance at 270 electoral votes, the magic number for winning the presidency. Crawford could not be reached for comment.
Polls indicated Webb had support from around 1 percent of voters when he abandoned the race.