Jim Webb Focused on Wealth Divide

With the election of Virginia Democrat Jim Webb to the U.S. Senate, the Democrats won the majority of the seats in the Senate. Webb is both a supporter of U.S. troops and critical of the war in Iraq. But he tells Renee Montagne that this race was about more than Iraq.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Senator GEORGE ALLEN (Republican, Virginia): And this season, the people of Virginia, who I always call the owners of the government, they have spoken. And I respect their decision.

MONTAGNE: With those words, Republican George Allen conceded defeat yesterday in Virginia's closely contested Senate race. The winner is Democrat Jim Webb. His victory gives the Democrats a majority in the Senate and control of both houses of Congress.

Senator-elect Jim Webb joins us on the line now. Good morning.

Senator JIM WEBB (Democrat, Virginia): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: The central issue of your campaign and what many presume put you over the top was the war in Iraq. What are you going to do when the new Senate convenes in January? What are you going to propose?

Sen. WEBB: Well, let me clarify something, because I've seen a lot of stuff in the media saying that I only ran because of the Iraq war and that it was a sort of a single-issue campaign. And it absolutely was not. I'm going to answer your question, but I decided to run because of my concern about what has happened with the economic breakdown in this country along class lines.

I was an early warning voice against moving into Iraq. I wrote the first piece in a major newspaper, in The Washington Post, six months before we went in, saying that this was a strategic error; that it was not about WMDs, it was about our troops being turned into terrorist targets and that there wasn't an exit strategy because the people who were doing this didn't intend to leave. I wrote all that.

And I'm very concerned about our national security posture writ large, and the way to begin solving that is by solving the war in Iraq. But I just wanted to make that clear, because there were three issues that got us a tremendous amount of traction in this campaign. One was the Iraq issue. The second was the huge gap between the rich and the middle class that has evolved in this country. And then the third was presidential abuse of power, which I feel very strongly about. And I ran on all of those, not...

MONTAGNE: Well, let's get to those last couple.

Sen. WEBB: OK.

MONTAGNE: And let me just ask you very quickly. With respect to Iraq, do the Democrats have a plan and will the Democrats speak with one voice?

Sen. WEBB: Well, you know, I didn't run as a part of a party platform on this. Well ahead of even running for office, I've been saying what I believe we need to do - and it's pretty much what Secretary of State Jim Baker is now finally saying over the past four or five weeks - I was saying that we needed first to have a clear statement from the administration that we had no desire for permanent bases in Iraq. They've never said that. And second, that we need to force a diplomatic solution, bringing the other countries in the region who have historical and cultural ties with Iraq to the table as a part of the diplomatic solution. And that if we do that, that we can then bring our combat troops out relatively quickly and still be able to fight international terrorism in the region and improve the stability in the region.

The administration has been trying to put this on the Democratic Party, saying what's your plan? But the point is, when you go into a war, you're the one that's supposed to have a plan. They don't have a plan.

MONTAGNE: Mr. Webb, we have actually run out of time, so we will hold the conversation about your views on, for instance, the minimum wage, which I gather you support.

Sen. WEBB: We're going to vote for it. We're going to get it.

MONTAGNE: All right. And right off, apparently, according to the Democrats.

Sen. WEBB: Yep. Looking forward to doing that. There are huge income inequalities in this country right now in a way we probably haven't seen, literally, since the 1880s. Wages and salaries in this country are at an all-time low as a percentage of our national wealth. It's something that a lot of people care about, that I got a tremendous response on when I was out campaigning.

MONTAGNE: Right. Well, thank you very much for joining us.

Sen. WEBB: Sure enough.

MONTAGNE: Democrat Jim Webb, the senator-elect from Virginia.

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