WASHINGTON — Jim Webb, a decorated Vietnam veteran and accomplished novelist who became a fierce critic of the Iraq war, announced Thursday that he’s challenging Hillary Rodham Clinton and other rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Webb, in a statement posted on his campaign website, acknowledged he would face major hurdles but vowed to bring an outsider’s voice to the 2016 race, dominated by Clinton.
‘‘I understand the odds, particularly in today’s political climate, where fair debate is so often drowned out by huge sums of money,’’ Webb wrote. ‘‘I know that more than one candidate in this process intends to raise at least a billion dollars.’’
But the former Virginia senator added, ‘‘We need to shake the hold of these shadow elites on our political process’’ and find fresh answers to the nation’s problems.
Webb, 69, a Navy secretary under Republican Reagan, became a Democrat in response to the Iraq war and served one term in the Senate after his election in 2006.
He surprised many fellow Democrats when he became the first major figure in the party to form a presidential exploratory committee in November.
Webb’s campaign message centers on helping working-class Americans compete in the economy, reworking the campaign finance system, and preventing the United States from getting involved in foreign entanglements like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Webb has made frequent trips to the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, but without the impact that Clinton brings to the race or the unexpected success of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders at raising campaign money and drawing crowds in his own longshot challenge. Also in the field: former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley and former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee.
Webb’s opposition to the Iraq war, in which his son Jimmy served, was key to his surprise Senate win in 2006 against the GOP incumbent in Virginia, George Allen. While Webb chose not to seek reelection in 2012, his military and foreign policy credentials could make him a debate-stage foil to Clinton, who served as President Obama’s secretary of state.
He said in his campaign announcement that as president, he would not have urged the invasion of Iraq, and as senator, he would not have voted to authorize it, as Clinton did.
Webb has said US foreign policy has been ‘‘adrift’’ since the end of the Cold War, and he called for a new doctrine that would outline the circumstances in which the United States would use military force.
A graduate of the Naval Academy, Webb served in the Marines as a company commander in Vietnam and 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 was 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 the Senate, Webb focused on foreign affairs and veterans issues, and he was the driving force behind a GI Bill for post-9/11 veterans seeking to attend college.
Webb has said he needs to raise enough money to mount a ‘‘viable’’ campaign, which could be critical to competing with Clinton and Sanders.