If giving a dynamite speech before a national audience can make Barack Obama a presidential contender, then there's no reason it can't do the same for Jim Webb.
Indeed, the freshly-minted freshman Democratic senator from Virginia could claim to be as well-qualified to run for president as his fellow freshman from Illinois, who came out of nowhere in recent weeks to become Hillary Clinton's principal challenger.
A bona fide Vietnam war hero and father of a Marine serving in Iraq, former Secretary of the Navy, best-selling author and winner of the key race that gave Democrats control of the Senate, Webb's impressive performance in delivering the Democratic response to President Bush's State of the Union speech has raised his profile almost as high as Obama's or any of the other candidates not named Hillary.
And if Bush's mismanaged war in Iraq proves to be the main issue in the 2008 election, as seems almost certain, the 60-year-old Webb could find himself in the position of Sen. Eugene McCarthy in 1968 as an anti-war icon and leading opponent of a disastrous war that Americans want no part of.
Webb, who has called the war in Iraq "the greatest strategic blunder in modern times," challenged Bush on the issue on which he's most vulnerable. "The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought, nor do the majority of the military, nor does a majority of our Congress," he declared in speech he wrote himself. "We need a new direction."
At the same time, Webb laid down the gantlet to Bush on the economic and domestic fronts, warning that unless he works with the new Democratic-controlled Congress to change course, "we will be showing him the way."
Webb was picked to give the Democratic response by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid because of his surprising defeat of Republican Sen. George Allen, who was primed to run for president himself, and perhaps because he represents a quality that Democrats badly need.
"Webb is the perfect choice," said Larry Sabato, the much-quoted director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "He projects the macho image missing from the Democratic Party's foreign policy since Vietnam."
That's pretty much what Reid and Pelosi said in a joint statement announcing that he would give the Democratic response to Bush. "As a combat veteran, he understands personally how crucial it is to find a new diredtion in Iraq and begin to bring the war to a close," they said.
But Reid went even further, telling the New York Times that Webb "represents to me what the new America is all about, someone who understands what it means to go to war, what it means to have peace, what it means to work on a bipartisan basis, someone who understands Reagan Democrats and the non-Reagan Democrats and indepen dents and Repbulicans out there."
Webb was a Republican just a year ago when Bush gave his last State of the Union speech, and he's only been in the Senate for a few weeks. But he may well prove to be the freshest face the Democrats have.