The audience assembled at the Council on Foreign Relations on the Upper East Side for a “conversation” with Jim Webb earlier this afternoon was, of course, interested in Iran, Iraq, diplomacy, and the like. But the other matter on everyone’s mind was the future of the man himself, who was introduced by CBS political correspondent Jeff Greenfield as “soon to be the senior U.S. senator from Virginia … or something else.” That something else would be Democratic vice-presidential candidate. Webb — a southern, Scots-Irish veteran and former secretary of the Navy under Reagan who was nevertheless against the war in Iraq from the start — could be a perfect antidote to McCain’s national-security experience as well as Obama’s rural-white-people problem. The latter, though, didn’t seem to concern Webb.
About Obama’s unimpressive primary bowling performance in Pennsylvania, Webb contended, to laughter, that “Rednecks don’t bowl, and I am one.” On “Bittergate,” he said he didn’t agree with Obama’s choice of words but that the sentiment was correct: “They’re mad, not bitter,” he said of lower-income whites. He’s optimistic that most of Hillary Clinton’s supporters will come around to Obama eventually. (Webb also claimed that Obama would not only be the first African-American president, but the “fourteenth president of Scots-Irish heritage.”) The senator, though, could still do a lot to help Obama with potentially crucial Appalachian voters. Asked about his role in the campaign, Webb said, “I’m happy to give Barack all the advice he needs.” Pressed on what he could offer as a running mate to Obama, he was coy: “You’ll have to ask the people that want to talk to me.” —Dan Amira