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Jim Webb joins Democratic race for U.S. presidential nomination

Former Virginia senator and Vietnam veteran Jim Webb announced his Democratic presidential campaign Thursday, one that is being called a long shot in a nominee field dominated by Hillary Clinton.

Webb acknowledges long shot bid, vows to bring outside voice to 2016 race

Jim Webb speaks at the National Sheriffs Association presidential forum in Baltimore last week. The former Virginia senator announced his presidential campaign on Thursday against a field of Democratic rivals for the party's nomination. (Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press)

Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, a decorated Vietnam veteran and accomplished novelist who became a fierce critic of the Iraq war in the Senate, announced his presidential campaign on Thursday, opening a long shot bid against Hillary Clinton and a field of Democratic rivals for the party's nomination.

Webb, in an announcement posted on his campaign website, acknowledged he would face major hurdles but vowed to bring an outsider's voice to the 2016 race.

"I understand the odds, particularly in today's political climate, where fair debate is so often drowned out by huge sums of money. I know that more than one candidate in this process intends to raise at least a billion dollars," Webb wrote. But he said the nation "needs a fresh approach to solving the problems that confront us and too often unnecessarily divide us. We need to shake the hold of these shadow elites on our political process."

Webb, 69, a decorated Vietnam veteran and former Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan, surprised many Democrats when he became the first major figure in the party to form a presidential exploratory committee last November. He has outlined the roots of a campaign message that include helping working-class Americans compete in the economy, tackling campaign finance reform and preventing the U.S. from getting involved in foreign entanglements like Iraq and Afghanistan.

His opposition to the Iraq War — Webb's son Jimmy served in the conflict — played a central role in his surprise Senate election in 2006 against Republican Sen. George Allen. While he chose not to seek re-election after one term, his military and foreign policy credentials could allow him to become a debate stage foil to Clinton, who served as President Barack Obama's secretary of state.

Webb has said U.S. foreign policy has been "adrift" since the end of the Cold War and called for a new foreign policy doctrine that would outline the circumstances in which the U.S. would use military force.

He has made frequent trips to the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, but early polls show Webb trailing in a field dominated by Clinton that also includes Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee.

Vietnam veteran who opposed Iraq invasion

The ex-senator brings a unique perspective to the field. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Webb served as a company commander in Vietnam and later wrote an acclaimed novel, Fields of Fire, about the war. At the end of the conflict, Webb became a Republican, worked in the Defense Department and served as Navy secretary at the end of the Reagan administration.

But he opposed President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and was recruited by Democrats to challenge Allen in 2006. Webb's campaign was helped by an anti-Iraq war fervour and missteps by Allen, whose campaign imploded after he called a Democratic tracker "macaca," an ethnic insult.

In the Senate, Webb focused on foreign affairs and veterans issues and was the driving force behind a GI Bill for post-9/11 veterans seeking to attend college after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. He announced he would not seek re-election in 2012 and returned to writing.

Webb has said he needs to raise enough money to mount a "viable" campaign, which could be critical to competing with Clinton and Sanders. 

"Assuming he raises enough money to make a difference, then he could bring a voice that is more appealing to moderate, more rural Democrats and champion their issues," said Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist. Given Webb's military background, "if he chooses to take on Hillary Clinton on foreign policy, he could be a real thorn in her side."

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