A moderate Democrat Senator, who had been backed into some tough votes, was made vulnerable by his public allegiance to President Obama. The only possible path to victory would be a tea party Republican candidate lacking in media savvy and unable to connect with voters. Unfortunately for Jim Webb, he isn’t Harry Reid. Despite a wide-open Republican field stuck between lesser-known candidates and former YouTube sensations, Webb is not running for re-election in 2012.
Many political observers thought a groundswell of conservative activism would upend incumbents in 2012 – speculation included Orrin Hatch, Dick Lugar, and even the normally safe Olympia Snowe falling in primaries. Webb’s surprise exit beats them all.
Even without an opponent at this point, Webb had to see the writing on the wall that his re-election would be tough. The redemption-seeking retread candidacy of George Allen is ripe for a tea party upset, and other candidates are lining up as well. But with excited conservative activists and the absence of national Democrat momentum, Webb was destined to join Creigh Deeds in the second place circle in November 2012, even against a fringe tea partier.
Put another way, Sharron Angle, who narrowly lost to Reid, probably would have beaten Webb in Virginia. John Buck in Colorado likely would have beaten Webb in Virginia. Webb doesn’t have the long record of public service that Reid boasts, nor the leadership, nor the ability to raise nearly $25 million to holdhis seat. Democratic campaign committees and independent groups were unlikely to chip in – races in Missouri, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and New Mexico, plus pickup opportunities in Nevada and Massachusetts, will all rank ahead of Virginia for national Democrats.
Aside from the realities of the electoral map, investing in a Virginia race with Jim Webb as your candidate has a strategic messaging issue. After all, Democrats were able to beat back some challengers in 2010 by convincing independents that specific Republicans – such as Angle – were a bit loony. Michael Bennet, Chris Coons, Reid, and others were able to paint themselves as sane alternatives to “crazy tea partiers.”
There is simply no conceivable way the tea party could out-crazy Jim Webb.