Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb has become the first serious candidate to officially toss his hat into the ring for 2016.
Webb, who served in the Senate from 2007 to 2013, released a 14-minute video late Wednesday night on his campaign website, webb2016.com, announcing an exploratory committee for his presidential run.
"Over the past few months, thousands of concerned Americans from across the political spectrum have urged me to run for president," Webb said in the video. "A constant theme runs through these requests: Americans want positive, visionary leadership that they can trust, at a time when our country is facing historic challenges. They're worried about the state of our economy, the fairness of our complicated multicultural society, the manner in which we are addressing foreign policy and national security challenges, and the divisive, paralyzed nature of our government itself. They're worried about the future. They want solutions, not rhetoric."
Webb is trying to define himself as a moderate whose limited political experience is a boon: He has political experience, but he's not a "career politician." He's a veteran of the Marine Corps, but he's also generally antiwar. He understands Wall Street, but will not be beholden to it.
"I learned long ago on the battlefields of Vietnam that in a crisis, there is no substitute for clear-eyed leadership," Webb said. "Each time I served not with the expectation of making government a career, but to contribute to the good of the country during a period of crisis or great change," Webb said. "In that spirit, I have decided to launch an exploratory committee to examine whether I should run for president in 2016. I made this decision after reflecting on numerous political commentaries and listening to many knowledgeable people. I look forward to listening and talking with more people in the coming months as I decide whether or not to run."
In a recent New Yorker story about Webb and the 2016 Democratic field, Ryan Lizza wrote that Webb could appeal to the "beer-track vote" of the Democratic Party—the blue-collar, working-class liberals.
"In his senatorial race, Webb did well not only in Northern Virginia, which is filled with Washington commuters and college-educated liberals, but also with rural, working-class white voters in Appalachia," Lizza wrote. "In 2008, those voters were generally more loyal to Clinton than to Obama, but Webb believes that he could attract a national coalition of both groups of voters in the presidential primaries."
Early entry doesn't necessarily equate to actual success. In 2006, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack was the first serious candidate to announce a 2008 presidential campaign, which came soon after that year's midterms. He ended his bid three months later.
Even Webb acknowledges that he's a long-shot candidate against Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic front-runner. But in the video, Webb noted that he surprised everyone when he won his Senate campaign against an incumbent.
"We are starting with very little funding and no full-time staff, but I've been here before," he said. "All I ask is that you consider the record I am putting before you, and give me the opportunity to earn your trust."