Former Sen. Jim Webb, left, and moderator Chuck Todd, right, appear on Meet the Press in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014.
William B. Plowman—NBC/Getty Images
By Joe Klein
November 20, 2014

With all the impact of a sparrow’s feather landing in the forest, former Virginia Senator Jim Webb announced the formation of a 2016 presidential exploratory committee last night. He did it in a video and letter sent to supporters. He thus becomes the first official challenger to Hillary Clinton, who has not yet gone exploratory, on the Democratic side.

Webb is interesting. He is not your standard-issue politician. He is a decorated former Marine, perhaps the best war novelist of the Vietnam generation, Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan. His one term in the Senate was protean, with Webb focusing on issues as diverse as the reestablishment of relations with Burma, and prison reform, and the new GI bill for Iraq-Afghanistan veterans.

He will be a refreshing presence on the campaign trail. He doesn’t talk like a politician. He can be blunt and combative. He has taken strong populist economic stands and was a strong opponent of the war in Iraq. In fact, Webb goes in strong whenever he takes a stand. He’ll certainly be fun to watch during debates (he was a boxer at Annapolis).

You’d have to call him a longshot, of course. But I suspect he’ll be one of those long shots who have the power to shape a campaign with new ideas and sharp arguments. He will certainly cause Clinton some populist agita, should she run.

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