As Michael Scherer noted, Senator Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat, announced today he won’t run for a second term. Webb’s decision not to engage in a rematch with former Senator George Allen, whom Webb beat in 2006 by less than half of 1% of the vote, blows open the field for Democrats. Virginia went for President Obama in 2008 53% to John McCain’s 46% but just a year later Republican Bob McDonnell won the governor’s mansion by a whopping 17-point margin and in 2010 midterm elections Dems lost half their Old Dominion congressional seats.
Virginia will be a top priority for President Obama’s reelect in 2012, which means Dems will be pressed to find a top tier replacement for Webb ASAP. Former Governor Tim Kaine, who now heads the Democratic National Committee, said last month that he would not run if Webb chooses to retire. Kaine himself was vague, saying in a statement only that he’s confident Dems will hold the seat in 2012. The three Dems unseated last November, freshmen Tom Perriello and Glenn Nye and 14-term veteran Rick Boucher, could be considered as they have name recognition and proven fundraising abilities. Boucher, in particular, has the strongest resume having represented a fairly Republican district (Cook R+10) for 28 years.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair Patty Murray was quick to point out that the state isn’t a shoo-in for the GOP: Allen must first weather a primary and Richmond Tea Party leader Jamie Radtke has already declared her candidacy. Other potential GOP candidates include popular Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, former Gov. Jim Gilmore and Rep. Rob Wittman. “As Republicans face a brutal primary between a flawed Washington establishment candidate and a right-wing extremist who is raising money at a good clip, Democrats will field a strong candidate,” Murray said in a statement. “The 2012 Virginia Senate race will be competitive but Democrats will prevail there just like we did in 2006 and 2008.”
Still, the retirement increases GOP chances at taking back the seat as incumbents are generally harder to beat. It also makes it harder for Dems to hold the majority in the Senate which they control with 53 seats. The retirements of Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman and, particularly, Kent Conrad of North Dakota together with Webb’s announcement today makes 2012 an increasingly tough and expensive year to defend for Senate Dems.
Webb’s statement is below:
Five years ago this week, on February 8, 2006, I announced my intention to run for the United States Senate. We had neither campaign funds nor a staff. We were challenged in a primary, and trailed the incumbent in the general election by more than 30 points in the polls.
Over the next nine months we focused relentlessly on the need to reorient our national security policy, to restore economic fairness and social justice, and to bring greater accountability in our government. I will always be grateful for the spirit and energy that was brought into this campaign by thousands of loyal and committed volunteers. Their enthusiasm and sheer numbers were truly the difference in that election.
It has been a great and continuing privilege to serve in the United States Senate. I am very proud of my talented and dedicated staff, which has worked tirelessly to resolve the issues on which I based my candidacy, and to protect the interests of all Virginians in this national forum. 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.
However, after much thought and consideration I have decided to return to the private sector, where I have spent most of my professional life, and will not seek re-election in 2012.
Notwithstanding this decision, I have every intention of remaining involved in the issues that affect the well-being and the future of our country.