Webb’s retirement could loosen Democratic grip on U.S. Senate
Things just got a lot harder for Democrats.
First-term Senator James Webb announced on Wednesday he will not run for re-election in Virginia next year, making Republicans the early favorite to recapture the seat the Democrat narrowly won in 2006.
The decision by Webb, an author and a former secretary of the Navy, set off a celebration among Senate Republicans and a scramble to find a replacement among Democrats with no clear good options.
The name most frequently mentioned was former Governor Tim Kaine, head of the Democratic National Committee, who says he has no interest in the seat. Other possibilities among Democrats include former Congressman Tom Periello, who lost in November after one term, former Congressman Rick Boucher and former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe.
Republicans were gleeful at the turn of events. Former Senator George Allen, who lost a close battle with Webb in 2006 after his famous “macaca” moment, already has signed up for another shot. Other Republicans are expected to enter the race as well.
Democrats, meanwhile, face a potential free-for-all.
“Democrats will have great difficulty finding an electable candidate for this open seat,” said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the Republican Senate campaign committee. “We can only hope that Democrats succeed in recruiting President Obama’s number one cheerleader in Washington — Tim Kaine.”
Kaine said in a statement he was confident the party could hold the seat in Virginia, which Obama carried in the 2008 White House race.
“We’ve made major progress in turning Virginia from a solidly Republican state to a highly competitive one,” Kaine said, dodging any mention of his personal plans.
Obama spoke with Webb in the morning and thanked him for his service. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: “I think Virginia is going to be a very competitive race.”
The move complicates Democratic efforts to hold control of the Senate in 2012, when they already face a difficult political map. Democrats hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, but they will be defending 23 seats — including two Democratic-leaning independent seats — to 10 for Republicans.
They face tough battles to hold seats in North Dakota, where Senator Kent Conrad is retiring, and in Florida, Nebraska, Montana, Missouri, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Allen took the high road after Webb’s announcement, saying he respected his former opponent’s decision.
“I did not enter into this race to run against any one person, but to fight for the families of Virginia to improve their opportunities,” he said.
Photo credit: Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom (Webb gestures at news conference in Bangkok, June 3, 2010)