Jim Webb, the former Democratic U.S. senator from Virginia, said he launched a committee to explore running for president in 2016, according to a 14-minute video he sent to supporters by email just before midnight on Wednesday.
Webb gave no notice he would announce the committee this week. He has only said in recent months that he is considering a presidential run.
"I'd like to take a few minutes of your time to ask you to consider the most important question facing America today," Webb said at the start of the announcement.
"Is it possible that our next president could actually lay out a vision for the country, and create an environment where leaders from both parties and from all philosophies would feel compelled to work together for the good of the country, despite all of the money and political pressure that now demands they disagree?"
Webb made the announcement in front of a gradient blue backdrop on what appears to be a simple, rudimentary set. There are no special effects or features, and there is no additional video footage — just a direct-to-camera shot of Webb.
The 68-year-old served for one term in the U.S. Senate after his 2006 race. Webb did not seek reelection at the end of his six-year term. He is a decorated combat Marine veteran and a former journalist. During the George W. Bush administration, Webb gained notice as a veteran who opposed the war in Iraq.
As of late Wednesday night, a search of the Federal Election Commission database did not show filings for the committee Webb said he has launched.
Among the Democrats said to be considering a White House bid — including Hillary Clinton, Vice President Biden, Gov. Martin O'Malley, and Sen. Bernie Sanders — Webb is the first to open a federal campaign account to accept donations for a run.
No candidate on the Republican side has launched a committee.
An exploratory committee is considered a first, optional step to pursuing a presidential bid. The entity allows a possible candidate to raise money, hire staff, and build the beginnings of what could be a national campaign operation.
Before he ran, President Obama launched an exploratory committee in Jan. 2007. It was only about a month later that he officially announced his candidacy.
Should she decide to run, as supporters anticipate, Clinton is not expected to start a campaign — in any form — until after the beginning of next year.
Early polling shows that Webb, like O'Malley and Sanders, registers in the low single digits in a hypothetical primary against Clinton.
In his lengthy announcement video, Webb highlighted issues like economic fairness, redefining national security priorities, veterans benefits, and criminal justice. He also argued that Washington could "unparalyze the environment and reestablish a transparent" political system.
"In that spirit I have decided to launch an exploratory committee to examine whether I should run for president in 2016," Webb said in the video.
"I made this decision after reflecting on numerous political commentaries and listening to many knowledgeable people. I look forward to listening and talking with more people in the coming months as I decide whether or not to run."
The 14-minute monologue suggests Webb's message to Democratic voters could have a working-class, progressive bent. In the video, he described the Democratic Party as a group that used to be defined by a "vital, overriding belief that we're all in this together and the system is not rigged."
The phrase — that the system, or game, is "rigged" — echoes a common tagline by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the popular progressive who has said repeatedly that she is not planning on running for president, despite appeals from the left.
Webb made a direct ask to supporters in the video for donations to his exploratory committee. "With enough financial support to conduct a first-class campaign, I have no doubt that we can put these issues squarely before the American people and gain their support," he said. "The 2016 election is two years away, but serious campaigning will begin very soon. The first primaries are about a year away."
Fundraising, particularly with Clinton in the race, would be an enormous hurdle for a lesser-known contender like Webb.
"Your early support will be crucial as I evaluate whether we might overcome what many commentators see as nearly impossible odds," he said.
The announcement video concludes with a final line that could easily double as a campaign slogan: "Let's fix our country together."
An email requesting comment sent to the address listed on Webb's exploratory committee website was not immediately returned.