Freshman Democratic Sen. Jim Webb announced Wednesday that he will not seek re-election in 2012 to his Virginia seat, one that has been eyed by Republicans hoping to gain the majority in the Senate in the next election.
"After much thought and consideration I have decided to return to the private sector, where I have spent most of my professional life, and will not seek re-election in 2012," said Webb in a statement. "Notwithstanding this decision, I have every intention of remaining involved in the issues that affect the well-being and the future of our country." [See a slide show of 10 Democrats targeted for defeat in 2012.]
Webb defeated Republican Sen. George Allen 50 percent to 49 percent in a competitive 2006 Senate race that took to the national stage. In the statement announcing his retirement, Webb recalled his unlikely defeat of Allen by 9,000 votes. "We had neither campaign funds nor a staff," said Webb. "We were challenged in a primary, and trailed the incumbent in the general election by more than 30 points in the polls. I will always be grateful for the spirit and energy that was brought into this campaign by thousands of loyal and committed volunteers. Their enthusiasm and sheer numbers were truly the difference in that election."
Allen, who had also served for four years as Virginia governor before becoming a Senator, announced in January that he would challenge Webb in 2012. On Wednesday, Allen said he will still run despite Webb's retirement. [See a slide show on 10 GOP frontrunners for 2012.]
"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 in life," Allen said in a statement. "My campaign will continue to focus on achievable reforms that will help reinvigorate our economy, end reckless, runaway spending, and unleash our plentiful energy resources."
Virginia is typically an election year bellwether. President Obama won the state with 53 percent of the vote in 2008, but President George W. Bush carried Virginia with 54 percent of the vote in 2004. In 2009, Republican Bob McDonnell was elected to replace term limited Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine in one of the first elections to challenge Obama's political capital. In the 2010 election, three Virginia Democrats lost their seats in traditionally red districts. Virginia's junior Sen. Mark Warner is not up for reelection until 2014. [See 2010: the year in pictures.]
Webb has been considered a rising star in the Democratic Party and one that brought extensive military experience to the Senate. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1968 and earned, among many honors, two Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam. After leaving the Marines, Webb graduated from Georgetown Law School in 1975. He later served briefly as Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan. He's also authored six books relating to Vietnam, history, and public policy.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement that he hopes Webb will continue to be involved in American politics and called the Virginia Senator "one of the finest people I have had the opportunity to serve with. Reid said Webb's "advocacy has been grounded in his deeply held convictions, especially when it comes to ensuring that all hard-working people have the chance to build a better life, keeping America safe and our military strong."
Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, another member of the Senate who caucuses with the Democrats, announced last month he will not seek reelection in 2012.