Hours after Sen. Jim Webb (D.-Va) telephoned President Obama yesterday to say he would not seek reelection in 2012 and then announced his retirement, the White House made clear that it was not going to get involved in the recruitment of a fresh Democratic candidate for the Virginia Senate.
At least that’s what the President’s top spokesman said yesterday, when Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked whether the President had spoken to either of the two Old Dominion Democrats now mentioned for nomination to the Senate—former Gov. and present Democratic National Chairman Tim Kaine or former Rep. Tom Perriello, who was defeated for reelection in his 5th District seat last year after voting for the stimulus package and health care package.
“Not that I’m aware of,” said Gibbs, adding that his own view as a Virginia resident was that Kaine had done a “terrific job” as governor of the state and as the current Democratic national chairman.
Although Webb’s retirement after one term was not unanticipated, Democrats are now facing the prospect of not having an “A-Team” candidate to run for the seat. As in North Dakota, where Sen. Kent Conrad is also retiring next year, the Democratic “bench” of promising candidates in Virginia has been gradually defeated in Republican years. In 2009, the GOP won all three statewide offices, and last year, Republicans unseated three Democratic House members.
In contrast to the murky Democratic picture, Republicans in Virginia have no less than four heavyweight contenders vying for nomination in the 2012 primary: former Sen. George Allen, who lost to Webb in one of the two closest Senate races of ’06, Prince William County Executive Corey Stewart, a well-known opponent of illegal immigration, State Delegate Bob Marshall of Prince William County, and Jamie Radtke, leader of the state’s largest Tea Party group. All are strong conservatives, and the most recent polls showed Allen in a near dead heat with Webb.
Now in his twilight days as press secretary to the President, Gibbs was asked earlier in the briefing whether he was going to run for the Senate seat that Webb’s exodus has opened up.
No, he shot back, “and I wouldn’t serve if I was appointed.”