In this campaign that has given an early rise to political outsiders, experts say there could be a place for a presidential candidate to run as an independent for president of the United States.
The question is whether Jim Webb is that candidate.
“If voters see the leading candidates from both parties failing to make a compelling case, then yeah, there’s an opportunity for an independent to step up,” said Mo Elleithee, the former spokesman for the Democratic National Committee who has worked on four presidential campaigns.
“But,” the former Clinton operative said, “it’s going to have to be someone who is fairly remarkable.”
Webb, the former Virginia senator and secretary of the Navy, said Tuesday he was dropping his campaign for the Democratic nomination to consider running as an independent.
Elleithee, who now leads the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, isn’t sure Webb falls into that category.
“He has a long and remarkable record of service, but that’s not enough. You cannot enter a race for president and demand or expect the attention of voters,” he said. “You have to go out and prove to voters that you’re trying not just to earn their vote, but their attention.”
Speaking Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, Webb told reporters he could no longer run as a Democrat because his “views on many issues aren’t compatible with the power structure and nominating base of the Democratic Party.”
Webb said in the coming weeks he would begin meeting with people and is keeping his options open. Webb said democracy is “under siege” because of money in politics, and noted Americans are “overwhelmingly” independents.
“Americans are disgusted by all this talk of Democrats and Republicans calling each other the enemy instead of reaching across the table and finding ways to work together,” he said. “The other party isn’t the enemy, they’re the opposition. In our democracy, we’re lucky to have an opposition.”
Not since businessman Ross Perot in 1992, when he ran as an independent, and 1996, when he ran on the Reform Party’s ticket, has a third-party candidate gained a significant amount of support on Election Day.
“I know the history of independent candidacies,” Webb said. “I’ve had some very smart political people say that because of the paralysis in our two parties there’s a time that it’s conceivable an independent candidacy could win.”
Part of the problem for an independent, Elleithee said, is, “the system is a difficult one, not an impossible one, but a difficult one to get ballot access, build grass roots, all the stuff that matters.”
Adrianne Marsh, a campaign strategist who has made it her business helping to elect Democrats in red and purple states, said she was concerned that Webb running as an independent might only serve to damage the Democratic nominee’s chances.
“Jim Webb is a true patriot and running for President is a reflection of how much he cares about this country to want to shape the direction we’re headed in as a nation, but there are surely other ways to achieve that objective without potentially serving as a spoiler that hurts Democrats’ in the fall, if he can qualify for the ballot.”
In the Democratic Party’s primary, Webb’s long-shot bid failed to earn much attention and lasted 110 days.
A Republican until he ran for Senate as a Democrat in 2006, Webb had struggled to gain traction in the early polls. He trailed the national Democratic front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and her anti-establishment rival, Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.
In Iowa, Webb hovered under 2 percent since July, leading only former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, according to a Real Clear Politics average . In New Hampshire, the same polling metric found Webb tied with former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley with 1.5 percent.
That lack of interest among Democrats was reflected at the first Democratic debate last week, where Webb spent some of his 14 minutes and 23 seconds of time complaining about how he did not have enough time to speak.
If he were to run as an independent, Webb would have to make up a serious cash disadvantage. At the end of the third quarter, his campaign had just over than $300,000 in the bank – far less than Clinton’s $33 million, or Sanders’ $27 million.
“I’ve had so many people asking me to stay in this and keep the voice out there. I think if we ran, we would not have the same difficulty we had with the Democrats, frankly,” Webb said, in response to a question about his fundraising woes. “If you can go out and connect with the right people who will support your candidacy and use your money wisely, you will have a chance.”