Is Jim Webb Really Running for President? An Investigation.

He’s maintaining a surprisingly low profile.

Nati Harnik/AP


Is Jim Webb actually running for president? I don’t even know—and it’s my job to.

I mean that literally: I’m covering the Webb campaign for Mother Jones. And on Monday, my editor wanted to know what was up with the former Virginia senator who’s vying, however quietly, for the Democratic nomination. He pops up in the news when he does interviews or attends an event—or when he’s accused of nearly beating a man to death as an Annapolis midshipman—but it’s sometimes hard to know he’s still out there if you don’t follow his Twitter feed. That feed, by the way, has just under 14,500 followers, fewer than the nearly 20,000 who follow former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who’s even more under the radar as a Democratic hopeful. (To be fair, Webb beats Chafee on Facebook.)

Webb has occasionally been on the trail in Iowa, but almost always at large events like the Iowa State Fair or last week’s Rural Town Hall in Des Moines. He’s only shown up once in New Hampshire, according to Raymond Buckley, the chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, who also says he’s heard no mention of Webb’s campaign from potential primary voters. “The crickets here in New Hampshire are louder than the Webb campaign,” Buckley told Mother Jones. As for his finances, the issue that already forced Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to drop out of the race, no one yet knows how they look. Webb formally announced his candidacy in early July, so he didn’t have to file a disclosure with the Federal Election Commission until last week. We should know in a few days how much cash Webb has raised, but, having rejected using a super-PAC, his war chest is likely to be modest.

With all that in mind, I emailed Craig Crawford, Webb’s communications director, to ask about the campaign. I wanted to see how many staffers or key volunteers Webb had signed up, particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire, where serious candidates need strong ground organizations. Silence. I tried again on Wednesday. Silence. Calls to Webb’s campaign headquarters (listed as a post office box) brought me to three different voicemail boxes, and a message wasn’t returned.

While I didn’t get to talk to Crawford, he told the Washington Post in May that Webb’s campaign has about a dozen paid staffers and volunteers. Then, in August, he told the Boston Globe that Webb was adding three more people to his staff. Two of them, Iowa director Joe Stanley and social media and veterans’ coordinator Joe Chenelly, didn’t respond to messages through their publicly available email addresses. Anastasia Apa, who supposedly raises money for Webb, referred me back to Crawford.

I did finally manage to exchange emails with Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, a longtime Webb adviser who worked on his 2006 Senate campaign. Saunders described himself as a “friend and supporter” of Webb’s, but said he had no official role on the campaign.

“I am not an official spokesperson for Jim,” he wrote. There seems to be a lot of that going around in Webb’s world.

But Webb will still be on stage at the Democratic debate next Tuesday, and there’s no Republican-style kids’ table to separate him from the front-runners. He argues his direct, no-BS style is what most Americans want, and the debate will be the first chance for almost everyone in the country to hear it. Whether that equates to a real campaign is a different question.

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate