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Friday, August 21, 2015

Candidate Profile (D): #2. Jim Webb

For background to this series, click here. Previous posts:

8/15: 5. Lincoln Chafee
8/17: 4. Martin O'Malley
8/19: 3. Bernie Sanders

Here's a good time to once again remind you that this ranking, like the Republican one, is in order of likelihood to win the nomination. They are not predictions of the order in which the candidates will finish in the final delegate count.

With that once again behind us, the second most likely Democratic nominee is . . .

#2. Jim Webb, 69, former senator from Virginia (2007-2013), U.S. Secretary of the Navy (1987-88), Assistant Secretary of Defense (1984-1987)

Campaign Website and Slogan--www.webb2016.com--"Leadership You Can Trust"

PPFA Slogan--"Hear That Hillary? Leadership You Can TRUST!"

Educational Background--U.S. Naval Academy; juris doctor from Georgetown University

Ideology on liberal-conservative spectrum (-10 is far left and +10 is far right. A center moderate is 0.): -3.25 (Individual rights: -4; Domestic: -2; Economic: -5; Foreign policy: -2) He's technically 0.25 left of Martin O'Malley, but as I discussed on Monday, O'Malley is running a campaign close to Bernie Sanders's ideology in order to outflank Clinton's left. For reasons explained below, Webb is a much more centrist candidate and is without question more palatable than O'Malley to moderates and Republicans.

Liberal Rank based on above: 4 of 5. See above.

Spin from the candidate's campaign--In a political climate where Donald Trump enjoys headlines from criticizing a prisoner of war, Jim Webb reminds us what courage really is. The man is one of the few presidential candidates, and the only Democratic one, who has shed blood for this country. His dedicated Vietnam military service includes the Navy Cross for heroism, the second highest decoration in the Navy and Marine Corps, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts. His war wounds left him with shrapnel in his knee, kidney, and head. After the war, he attended and graduated from Georgetown Law. Under the Reagan Administration, he was an Assistant Secretary of Defense and then the Secretary of the Navy.

It was that kind of background that helped legitimize his subsequent criticism of George W. Bush's foreign policy. Seven months before the Iraq War, he wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he doubted ousting Saddam Hussein would "actually increase our ability to win the war against international terrorism," and explained that, "Unilateral wars designed to bring about regime change and a long-term occupation should be undertaken only when a nation's existence is clearly at stake." He suggested that knowing when not to go to war was critically important for true leaders. Hillary Clinton's Iraq War vote in the Senate tells us she could not delineate what Jim Webb and his valuable experience had already figured out. What makes him so special is that he did not make up his mind on political grounds; instead, it was his experience with military strategy that fed his decision. Ultimately, no candidate in either party is more prepared to be Commander-in-Chief, the most important job a President has, on Day One.

Meanwhile, he's a good Democrat. In 2006, he took on the very conservative and heavily favored George Allen, then widely considered a frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president, for his U.S. Senate seat out of Virginia and defeated him. He then served on the Armed Service and Foreign Relations committees, further boosting his national security credibility. He's center-left on most issues--center enough to have rare crossover appeal. Yet, he's also been a vocal critic of income inequality and connects really well with the working class, recently "shining" at an Iowa labor convention. Indeed, the very first bullet on his Issues page is "Economic Fairness." His résumé is diverse; he's more than just a military man. He taught literature at the Naval Academy, he's been a journalist, he's made documentaries, he's written ten books, he speaks Vietnamese; he's at once an everyman and an intellectual. Above all, he's a leader.

Spin from opponents--What are Democrats to make of Jim Webb? He's politically all over the map; the Washington Post notes his "conservative bent" and "idiosyncratic collection of positions." He has spoken out against affirmative action, he's a defender of the Second Amendment, and he's more critical of illegal immigration than his Democratic peers. He also came out against his president's Iran Deal, and he was particularly disappointed for those angry at Chuck Schumer for not following the party on it. Last week, at the Iowa State Fair, when asked who his favorite twentieth century presidents were, he picked one from each party--FDR and Ronald Reagan. Not coincidentally, the Guardian notes how he "out-Reagans the entire Republican field."

The Democratic Party has made a lot of progress in the last eight years; should it really go back and nominate a Reagan Democrat?

How do the polls look?--In national polls, he's averaging 1.3, far behind Clinton and Sanders, duking it out with Martin O'Malley for fourth behind the undeclared Biden, and ahead of Lincoln Chafee, whose average is now an awkward 0.0. In Iowa, his 1.5 is again only ahead of Chafee, while in New Hampshire he's at 1.3, which is surprisingly good enough for third place among declared candidates because so much support is getting sucked up by Clinton and Sanders in The Granite State Death Match (TM).

In other words, he's polling terribly and you think I'm an idiot for putting him above your boy Bernie Sanders.

PPFA analysis--Okay, so he's "a Democrat a Republican could like," but does that actually help in a Democratic Primary? Sure, there are still some conservative Democrats. Gallup recently pegged that number at 19 percent:
Trend in Identification as "Conservative," by Party ID
Some of these conservative Dems attended June's Western Conservative Summit, which held a Democratic straw poll that Webb won in a landslide. But aren't these terrible poll numbers among all Democrats indicative of the party not buying into his centrism?

It certainly seems so. Just as the Republican Party has moved right in recent decades, so, too, has Webb's party moved left. FiveThirtyEight shows us that Webb would have felt much more at home in the late Nineties; he has an ideology most similar to Bill Clinton and Al Gore, while modern Democrats like President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders are far more liberal than they were.



Webb, in fact, recently acknowledged this leftward slide, which he thinks has alienated some of the party's elements. He's likely referencing the party's "white man's problem," which suggests the Dems have become reliant on handily winning women and minorities in national elections while counting on just enough white men to come along for the ride despite the party not speaking to them. Webb thinks he's the candidate to bring them back into the fold.

The likelihood of such a drastic change in the Democratic electorate--that is, women and minorities ditching a liberal Hillary Clinton to join a moderate candidate that working class white men could get behind--is remote to say the least. But if we're ranking the four long-shot Democratic candidates in likelihood to win the nomination, we have to find the candidate that could most capitalize on Clinton's weakness.

As I'll write more about in her entry, Hillary Clinton is actually a lot more liberal than Sanders and O'Malley give her credit for. They think that outflanking her left is the way to victory, but she's pretty shored up there. A barrage of ads, thanks to her considerable war chest, closer to the primaries will remind voters that they're getting an experienced candidate with a liberal record and a husband they adore. Moreover, with post-surge Sanders and O'Malley adopting the same left-of-Hillary strategy, they'll undermine each other's efforts by splitting each other's donors, support, and votes.

Instead, as FiveThirtyEight wrote last year, her weakness is not to her left but to her right, or the center of the political spectrum. The article wonders, "Let’s say you’re a high-powered campaign strategist shut out of Hillaryland, and you’re looking for a candidate to back; you might ask, “Where is Clinton weakest?" It goes on to observe, "Like 2008, Clinton continues to perform worse among men than she does overall." It also notes that Clinton polled better with liberals than non-liberals, so "It seems that a candidate who attracts moderate and conservative Democrats would be in a stronger position to win anti-Clinton voters." Another article from the site reinforces this conclusion, saying:
"Three CNN surveys have asked Democratic primary voters whether they prefer Clinton, a “more conservative Democrat” or a “more liberal Democrat.” Clinton has averaged 67 percent in these surveys. The more liberal Democrat has averaged just 11 percent. The more conservative Democrat, on the other hand, has averaged 18 percent. Again, Clinton is the heavy favorite, but anti-Clinton voters prefer a more conservative option."
So does Webb have a great shot? Absolutely not. Conservative and moderate Democrats do not make up a majority of the party. But does he have a better shot than the two candidates who are coming at Clinton from her not-too-vulnerable left and the one candidate named Lincoln Chafee? I think so. It's much better to surge in the winter of primaries than in the summer of stump speeches. After the debates start, he might begin polling well with moderate voters and liberal men. Then he can surge in December to become the new anti-Hillary. People will not only continue talking about Clinton's problems, but they will start asking "Who has the best chance to beat the Republicans in November?" Their answer will be Jim Webb.

PPFA nomination rank--2 of 5 (Odds: 18:1). It's only a sliver ahead of #3 Bernie Sanders. While I think Sanders has the better shot to be the number two delegate winner, I prefer Webb's chances at actually being able to defeat Clinton. After all the pre-Iowa surges we saw in the Republican Primary of 2012, Santorum's is the one we most remember. Why? Because his was last. When Sanders's surge cools, another candidate will get their chance. It might be O'Malley, but I don't see why his won't similarly fizzle. Webb is the only other candidate who could claim a chunk of the electorate and never relinquish it to another candidate saying similar things. If (and probably when) he does fall short, however, I think he's a good bet to be Secretary of Defense in the Clinton White House.

PPFA general election rank--1 of 5. He's a Reagan Democrat with potential crossover appeal the party hasn't seen since Bill Clinton. He's enough of a liberal to lose no Democratic votes and enough of a moderate to win the center, especially if the Republicans nominate favorites Bush, Walker, or Rubio. (A Webb vs. Kasich, Christie, or Paul election could be really, really quirky.) Webb might not win 49 states like Reagan himself did, but I don't think any candidate in either party could come as close. The Democrats already have electoral math working in their favor, but whereas Hillary Clinton is a divisive figure who would mobilize and unite Republicans against her, Webb's southern centrism with blue collar appeal could put a lot more states into play without giving anything up.

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You'll never guess who #1 is . . .

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