On Jim Webb for President

Marine Corps SealJim Webb announced his campaign for president via email to supporters July 2, cross posted it on his web site and social media, then spent the Independence Day holiday weekend with family in his home state of Virginia.

When the Des Moines Register posted an article titled, “Presidential hopefuls discuss patriotism on July 4th,” the Webb campaign submitted the Marine Corps seal as his response. There was a caption referring to Webb’s combat service in Vietnam, but the seal was the submission according to the Register.

If Webb has a natural constituency, I am part of it. We share common roots in western Virginia, we both felt a duty to serve our country in the military, we both had ancestors who served on both sides of the Civil War, and we both believe the Scots-Irish heritage is an important American legacy that continues to be influential. Because his campaign is so different, I’m not sure what to make of it.

I expect to find out.

What we know is the East Coast liberal establishment has not taken to Webb as a Democratic candidate for president.

Barbara Morrill of Daily Kos had eight words for Webb, “Good luck Jim, You’re going to need it,” and posted a link to polling that showed Webb at the back of the heap at 1.2 percent, ahead of only Lincoln Chafee who was at zero.

David Corn of Mother Jones took umbrage with Webb from the git go.

Perhaps the most favorable East Coast establishment liberal article came from Alex Seitz-Wald of MSNBC, who wrote,

The former senator, author, decorated Marine combat veteran and Navy secretary is a true maverick. He’s a rebel who refuses to play by Washington’s rules, and he has excited some liberals with his anti-conformist ethos.

Webb’s refusal to play by the rules, and his willingness to break with convention, is considered refreshing in an age of deep dissatisfaction with politics. But it also means he often ends up alone, as when he defended the Confederate flag after the shooting massacre last month at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

By throwing out the political playbook and letting seven months pass by without building a real campaign infrastructure, Webb went from being the first potential candidate to declare an exploratory committee to being the 15th candidate to officially enter the race.

And his ideological heterodoxy and refusal to comport to anybody’s doctrine makes it unclear where he stands in a Democratic field that has so far broken down cleanly along ideological lines.

In a canvass of likely caucus-goers in the Peoples Republic of Johnson County over the last few days, I found a lot of people have established camp with a candidate. By that reckoning, Webb’s delay, from last November when he formed his exploratory committee to his announcement, cost him support in this and probably other liberal centers of the state.

Webb 2016 has a steep climb to get a share of Johnson County delegates, but it may not matter much. Johnson County is an island in a sea of disgruntled Iowa voters and that’s where Webb’s opportunity to pick up delegates may be.

Among Iowa Democrats, delegates matter most in the caucuses, and the smart money is on activating people so as to maximize delegate count. Webb could target historically neglected and disaffected Democrats, including those in conservative areas, as a tactic to garner delegates. There may be a winning path, but at this point, who knows what Webb has in mind for strategy and tactics given his close to the breast style?

I spoke to both Joe Stanley, Webb’s Iowa campaign coordinator, and Craig Crawford, his communications director in Clinton June 26. Both Stanley and Crawford are long-time friends of Webb. Crawford summed up the situation, “We will need people, lots of people.”

Webb surrounded himself with people he can trust for the campaign, but in Clinton, the focus was on whether, when and where to announce. In the audience were cousins from Cedar Rapids, and three former Marines, including at least one who was in his Vietnam combat unit.

Fox news is the only media outlet quoting an unnamed source saying Webb planned to announce his bid for the presidency at the Clinton County Democrats Hall of Fame Dinner. For those who understand Iowa Democratic politics, that makes no sense. Even if it were true, county party chair Jean Pardee’s reading a letter from Bernie Sanders to those gathered, and Senator Amy Klobuchar devoting half her 23 minute speech to advocating for Hillary Clinton were both very predictable at a high visibility county party event.

Where does that leave Webb 2016? His campaign tag line is “Leadership You Can Trust.” One has to believe he’s serious about running, given his personal character. From here the path leads to gaining enough trust among Democratic caucus-goers and primary voters to win some early states. If the liberal establishment has been dismissive of Webb’s campaign, he may be relying on family, friends, veterans and an extensive personal network to secure the nomination. It should be engaging to see how he expands his network and gains trust, and if that’s possible.

Webb’s campaign strikes me as pure Appalachia. To understand him we may need to get back to his roots, and keep on the sunny side.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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