Virginia Sen. Jim Webb to step down after just one term

Washington Bureau

In a major blow to Democrats’ hopes of keeping a Virginia Senate seat out of the GOP’s hands next year, Sen. Jim Webb is calling it quits after just one term.

Webb was set to face former Sen. George Allen in a rematch of their 2006 contest, which Webb won in a squeaker. Allen is now likely to be the favorite against any Democrat who might jump in the race, such as former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine.

The decision will not surprise anyone who knows Webb well. The outspoken, pugnacious moderate was always something of an awkward fit in the placid, often-meandering Senate. An admittedly private person, he was at times uncomfortable with the demands of the spotlight -- and the small gestures of politics did not come easy to him.

A former secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration, Webb, who turns 65 on Wednesday, gave Senate Democrats an authoritative voice on military issues. He was passionately pro-soldier, as well as a fierce defender of gun rights. But he also openly worried about the widening gap between the rich and poor in America. He was the architect of a bill that improved veterans’ benefits and educational opportunities.

During his last few years in the Senate, he became preoccupied with reforming the criminal-justice system, sponsoring well-received legislation that ultimately failed to advance.


In a statement released Wednesday, Webb said: “Among other contributions we have given our Post- 9/11 veterans the best GI Bill since World War Two; we have taken the lead in reforming our criminal justice system; we have led the way toward stronger relations in East and Southeast Asia; and we have been a strong voice in calling on China to act more responsibly in the world community. We will continue to work on these and other issues throughout the rest of my term.”

“Senator Jim Webb is one of the finest people I have had the opportunity to serve with,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement. “In the Senate as in his other endeavors, Senator Webb’s advocacy has been grounded in his deeply held convictions, especially when it comes to ensuring that all hard-working people have the chance to build a better life, keeping America safe and our military strong.”

Webb likely will return to doing what he enjoys the most: writing. He wrote a bestseller in 2004, the nonfiction “Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America,” and followed that with a political tome, “A Time to Fight.” It’s also possible he could play a role in a second-term Obama administration.

Democrats must defend 23 Senate seats in 2012, including those in Republican-leaning states such as Missouri, Montana, Nebraska and North Dakota, as well as in battlegrounds such as Florida and Pennsylvania. Webb’s departure won’t make that any easier.

Kaine, currently the Democratic Party chairman, has not expressed interest in Webb’s seat, but that may now change. Another possible candidate is former Rep. Tom Perriello, who lost his Charlottesville, Va.-centered district in 2010 after a single term.

Whoever jumps in will face a formidable opponent in Allen, a former Virginia governor, whose campaign for reelection six years ago was derailed by his use of the pejorative “macaca.”