How will Jim Webb play in New Hampshire? We’ll know in the coming months.
The centrist Democrat and former Reagan administration official was the first well-known potential candidate to announce a presidential exploratory committee on Thursday. He explained his decision in a lengthy letter on his committee’s web site.
Webb, 68, a Vietnam veteran and former Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, seems to be a “quirky guy,” said Dean Spiliotes, political analyst and civics scholar at Southern New Hampshire University. “But he also is an interesting guy.”
Webb took himself out of politics for about a year after serving a term as Senator, a race he barely won over George Allen back in 2006. He decided not to seek reelection.
“Now he’s coming back, and I think that just by definition, he would be a long shot – I think he would acknowledge that,” Spiliotes said. “In New Hampshire, he is really not known except by political insiders. In terms of catching up with Hillary Clinton, he certainly has his work cut out for him.”
Clinton, after all, has deep roots in the Granite State, dating back more than 20 years. She won the 2008 New Hampshire Primary, and through the local arm of the national Ready for Hillary PAC, operating independently of Clinton, she has the foundation of a 2016 campaign operation is already in place.
And Spiliotes noted that Webb, should he run, would enter the race to the ideological right of Clinton, at a time when, he said, “progressives, by talking about Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, are trying to push her to the left. He would push her back to the middle a little bit because he is a centrist and a populist.”
UNH political science professor Dante Scala added bluntly, “While progressive Democrats might like to see a challenge to Hillary from her left, there’s no niche that a Democrat like Webb would fill up here.”
Still, New Hampshire – where retail politics still matter — may be tailor-made for Webb to at least make his case and determine if his message finds a receptive audience.
Webb spokesman Jess Vandenberg told the New Hampshire Journal that while his schedule is still being worked on, Granite Staters can expect Webb in these parts in the not-too-distant future.
He was most recently in the state in September, speaking about his memoir, “I Heard My Country Calling,” at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.
NHIOP executive director Neil Levesque said, “New Hampshire would be custom made for a Webb candidacy. He would not need the money required in other places to earn the vote. Challenging Clinton will be tough anywhere, but Jim Webb is known for one thing: being tough.”
Vandenberg said Webb was previously in the state in May for a veterans event. And back in 2007, Webb – then viewed as a rising star — was the keynote speaker for the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner.
“He received a good reception” in September, Vandenberg said, “and obviously New Hampshire is very important in this process. It is certainly a good place to go and meet voters when you are in the decision-making process. It’s a great place for him to talk about the issues and for people to speak with him about the issues that are important in their daily lives.”
She said Webb expects to make a decision on whether he will be a candidate in the spring.
Vandenberg, who is based in first-caucus state Iowa, said, “I know Iowa is that way, and New Hampshire is the same way. New Hampshire has a great sense of independence and that fits in well with someone like Jim Webb, who is also independent.”
Vandenberg said it was too premature to discuss in detail the challenge Webb would face running against Clinton in the New Hampshire Primary. “Those questions will be answered if and when he decides to run,” she said.
Key New Hampshire Democrats offered mixed reviews.
“This is where the first-in-the-nation primary takes place and of course we welcome all candidates to come in,” said David Lang, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire. “New Hampshire will take a good look at him if he runs.”
But another senior Democrat who asked not to be named told the Journal that Webb has shown that he is not a traditional politician.
“Jim Webb despises politics,” this Democrat said. “I think there is great consensus that the past six years of having a President who despises politics has been more than enough for a lifetime.”
That, of course, remains to be seen.