Barack Obama amd Jim Webb at a rally in Virginia. (Photo/EPA/MATTHEW CAVANAUGH)
by David Lerman
Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, widely touted as a potential running mate for Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, formally took himself out of the vice-presidential sweepstakes Monday.
"Last week, I communicated to Senator Obama and his presidential campaign my firm intention to remain in the United States Senate, where I believe I am best equipped to serve the people of Virginia and this country," Webb said in a written statement. "Under no circumstances will I be a candidate for vice president."
The unequivocal statement appeared aimed at ending speculation that has dogged the freshman Virginia Democrat for months about his interest in serving on a national ticket.
While Webb has long said he had not thought about the vice presidency and wasn't interested in the job, he had stopped short of ruling out the possibility until Monday.
Political strategists had played up Webb's potential as a running mate based partly on the foreign policy and military experience he would bring to an Obama ticket.
A decorated Vietnam combat veteran, Webb later served in Ronald Reagan's Pentagon as secretary of the Navy.
Webb also offered Obama the prospect of wooing rural white voters in Appalacia, who sided with Sen. Hillary Clinton by lopsided margins in the Democratic primaries. And Webb represents Virginia-- a Republican-leaning state that Obama hopes to make a critical battleground in the fall election.
Obama made Virginia his first campaign stop after locking up his party's nomination in early June.
At a rally in voter-rich Northern Virginia, Obama heaped praise on Webb, whom he called "an indispensable voice for change in Washington."
Obama added, "If you're in a fight-- and we're going to be in a fight-- you want Jim Webb to have your back."
But it was never clear that Obama was seriously considering Webb for the vice presidency.
Webb said Monday he concluded that his efforts to strengthen national security, promote economic fairness and increase government accountability "are best served in the Senate."
Webb is not the only Virginian who has been touted as a potential running mate.
Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, another potential contender, praised Webb's decision Monday but said nothing of his own potential candidacy.
"While I believe that Senator Jim Webb would have made a great vice president, it is good news for Virginia that he will continue to represent the commonwealth in the U.S. Senate," Kaine said in a separate statement.
Webb again pledged to work for Obama's election and said the Illinois Democrat could become the first Democratic presidential nominee in 44 years to win Virginia's 13 electoral votes.
"At this time I am also renewing my commitment to work hard to make sure that Senator Obama wins both Virginia and the presidency this November," Webb said. "He is a man who speaks eloquently about our national goals and calls for the practical solutions that must be put into place to obtain them. I will proudly campaign for him."