Saying goodbye to Senator Stoneface
Suffice it to say that anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention could probably have predicted that Virginia’s gruff-and-tumble senior senator James Henry Webb, Jr. would call it quits after one measly term. After all, from the moment of his unexpected 2006 victory, Webb seemed to exhibit all the job satisfaction of a Wal-Mart greeter at a Thanksgiving doorbuster sale.
And unlike the vast majority of his fellow freshman Congress-critters, Webb spent zero energy trying to court the media or insinuate himself into other politician’s good graces. Quite the contrary, in fact: Unwilling (or unable) to temper his prickly nature, Webb became notorious for brusquely brushing off reporters and refusing to hold his tongue, even when it was in his political interest. When George W. Bush sarcastically inquired after his Iraq-deployed son, Webb famously snapped “That’s between me and my boy, Mr. President.” More recently, he publicly opined that the Obama administration “did a really terrible job” of crafting and selling its healthcare legislation.
And so it was more than a bit anticlimactic when Webb finally released a statement (what, you were expecting a press conference?) stating unequivocally that he would not be standing for reelection in 2012, thereby denying us the much-anticipated possibility of a rematch with Mr. Macaca himself, George Allen, who desperately wants his old seat back.
But if Webb’s announcement wasn’t exactly a surprise, neither was it welcome news for Virginia’s Democrat Party, which is still reeling from the massive electoral losses it suffered in the last two statewide contests. Luckily for them, the Old Dominion’s donkeys have a relatively deep bench to draw from (an ironic result of the 2010 bloodbath, which left high-profile candidates like Tom Perriello and Rick Boucher free to pursue a Senate bid).
Of course, the top name on everyone’s list is former Governor (and current head of the Democratic National Committee) Tim Kaine, who has both the name recognition and robust poll numbers to go up against Allen. Although he has repeatedly declared that he's done running for office, a concerted campaign by party bigwigs (including an endorsement by Webb and some serious arm-twisting by President Obama) aims to convince him otherwise.
Still, the man remains resolutely unconvinced. Even after carving time out of his busy schedule to attend last weekend’s Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner—and sitting with a stiff grin plastered on his face as everyone from Rep. Gerry Connolly to fellow ex-guv Mark Warner publicly begged him to run—the best Kaine could do was say that he was “reflecting” on the senate race, and that it would be “a challenge.”
Sure doesn’t sound like the words of a man who’s looking forward to a hard-fought campaign, if you ask us. But if Kaine abandons ship, there’s little doubt that Perriello will immediately move to grab the helm.
As for the Republicans, the situation remains equally unsettled. Although Allen is definitely the presumptive frontrunner, both tea party activist Jamie Radtke and Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart are fighting like hell to wrest the nomination away from him
But no matter who makes it to the general election, it just won’t be the same without Webb. Though we’re loath to admit it, we’ve developed a real soft spot for that old leather-faced legislator, and will truly miss poking fun at his combat boot-wearin’, pistol-packin’, steamy-sex-scene-writin’ persona.
Just don’t tell him we feel that way—we can already see the contemptuous sneer spreading across his face, and our self-esteem is low enough as it is.
Cross-posted from C-VILLE Weekly.