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Eye On Candidates
October 20, 2015

Webb to Run as Independent?

Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb has struggled to gain any traction in the Democratic presidential nominating contest, failing to register above 1 percent in polls (if he registers at all) and reporting poor fundraising totals. So it might not be a big surprise that he may be considering exiting the Democratic field. The surprise is that he might want to run as an independent. Politico reports:

Jim Webb to consider running as an independent

Jim Webb, the longshot Democratic presidential candidate, may run as an independent, his campaign said in an email to reporters on Monday evening.

The former Virginia senator, who complained last week about not having enough talking time on the stage during the first Democratic debate in Las Vegas, will hold a press conference in Washington on Tuesday to discuss his options.

During the debate, Webb alluded to his decision to run as a Democrat, suggesting it had been a topic of consideration. He has been to the right of the other candidates on most domestic policy issues.

The issue of his speaking time at the debate seems to be a motivating factor for Webb, who has brought the issue up since the debate, according to The Hill:

“It was rigged in terms of who was going to get the time on the floor by the way that Anderson Cooper was selecting people to supposedly respond to something someone else said,” Webb told the audience last week at an event for the Council on Foreign Relations.  

“It's very difficult to win a debate when you don't have the opportunity to speak the same amount of time on issues as the other two did.”

It’s difficult to see Webb mounting anything more than a token campaign as an independent, given his lackluster fundraising and low name recognition. NPR Radio does offer one possibility on how an independent Webb candidacy might affect the 2016 general election, however:

The one-term senator's national support is negligible — he averages just over 1 percent nationally — and he has made only a handful of campaign trips to early states. Still, if he runs as an independent, it could have an impact in his home state. Virginia is a swing state and is expected to be close again next November. And any division in support could impact the outcome for Democrats.

That’s true, but it’s also possible that an independent Webb campaign gives some conservative Democrats in Virginia (and elsewhere) who might otherwise vote for a Republican an option they didn’t have before. Many point to the “Reagan Democrats” as helping to put Reagan in office in 1980, and to the siphoning-off of some of these voters by Ross Perot as the difference between George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in 1992.

Webb would need some significant help, but it’s not impossible to imagine a super PAC running ads in Virginia, and possibly West Virginia and North Carolina, seeking to peel enough conservative Democrats away from the Republican nominee to deliver those states into the Democratic nominee’s column on election night. Which might just make a decision to run as an independent more consequential than it seems at first glance.