“He’s regal, almost,” Mudcat Saunders says of former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb.
“And I’m not talking about in the sense of a King Arthur or that type of regal,” Saunders went on. “He’s redneck regal. He really is.”
Saunders, the longtime Southern political hand who helped get Webb elected to the Senate in 2006, is making the case that his old boss is the kind of Democratic presidential candidate that can actually appeal to the working class.
“I tell you how much I trust him,” Saunders said in an interview Tuesday. “There’s a telephone pole sitting across the field here from my house. If he called me and told me to go sit on that telephone pole, and not get down until he got here, I’d do it.”
Implied, but not explicitly said: these voters don’t trust Hillary Clinton.
During a speech Tuesday at the National Press Club, Webb acknowledged that he is “seriously” considering running for president as a Democrat in 2016.
It’s assumed that Webb would position himself as the populist alternative to Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic Party front-runner.
Webb, a Vietnam veteran and former secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, served one term in the Senate, from 2007 to 2013.
“I’m a Democrat,” Webb said in his remarks. “I have strong reasons for being a Democrat. Basically, if you want true fairness in this society, and you want to give a voice in the quarters of power to those who otherwise would not have it, I believe that will come from the Democratic Party.”
Much has been made of the liberals who are trying to draft Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run for president, but the former Harvard professor has said she isn’t running. Webb, on the other hand, seems to be more serious about the prospect of battling it out with Hillary.
The former senator said Tuesday that he would continue deliberating about a campaign over the “next four or five months.” For now, he said he wants to “see if there’s a support base.”
Some cynics inside the Democratic Party argue Webb is only ginning up interest in a campaign in order to sell books. He recently released a memoir, “I Heard My Country Calling.”
Other political analysts say a Webb candidacy would enliven the debate.
“If Jim Webb runs, he’ll run flat out, and he won’t hesitate to define his differences with Hillary Clinton,” University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato told The Daily Caller. “Webb is to her left some on foreign policy issues and to her right on Second Amendment issues. This would be a campaign worth seeing.”
A Clinton spokesman didn’t return a request for comment.
Speaking by phone after Webb’s speech, Saunders said of a potential presidential campaign: “I know he’s seriously looking at it, that’s all I can say. Do I know which way he is leaning? No.”
He argued that Webb’s past outspokenness on criminal justice reform could draw support from African-Americans and poor white rural voters.
“There should be no question in anybody’s mind that we are in a new age of economic populism,” Saunders said. “The middle class has been screwed, they know it, and they’re pissed.”
“He is such a contrast to Hillary, and her actions, on economic fairness, her beliefs in actions on foreign policy,” the political operative said.
But Saunders quickly added: “He’s not going to be the anti-Hillary. He’s going to be pro-Jim Webb. Jacksonian politics is what it is. It’s a return to that. Jacksonian Democracy. He talked about it. Economic fairness and social justice. And he believes in that.”
During Tuesday’s speech, Webb said: “How can we say we’re fellow Americans when tens of millions of people are quietly written off? Not only by our most wealthy, but by many of our political leaders. As hopeless. Who will never be fully employed. Who should be avoided on the street. Feared rather than encouraged to enter the American mainstream.”
Webb also used his address to speak to the anti-war wing of the party.
“In the area of international relations, it’s not a healthy thing when the world’s dominant military and economic power has a policy based on vagueness,” he said. “And so we ended up, and continue to be trapped, in the never ending ever changing entanglements of the Middle East, beginning with the Pandora’s box that was opened with the invasion of Iraq.”
While Webb acknowledged he voted for President Obama’s health-care bill, he also criticized parts of it. “I don’t regret voting in favor of it, but there’s a lot in this program that could be tightened and adjusted.”
Despite the critics, Saunders insisted that Webb “wouldn’t be out here squandering his time and his thought process” over a potential run if he wasn’t serious.
“You know, he’s got plenty of things he can do,” Saunders said. “And he doesn’t need it.”