WASHINGTON — Former U.S. senator Jim Webb announced his presidential campaign on Thursday, opening a long-shot bid against Hillary Rodham Clinton and a field of Democratic rivals for the party's 2016 nomination.
Webb, 69, a decorated Vietnam veteran and a former top Navy official, is expected to focus his campaign on 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.
Webb 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 said in a statement. But "We need to shake the hold of these shadow elites on our political process."
Webb's opposition to the Iraq War — his son Jimmy served in the conflict — played a central role in his surprise Senate election in 2006 against a Republican challenger. 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.
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 war, 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 Republican Sen. George Allen in 2006. Webb's campaign was helped by an anti-Iraq war fervor.
Webb has made frequent trips to the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, but early polls show him trailing in a field dominated by Clinton and other prominent candidates.