Washington (CNN)Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb hinted at the contrast he'll draw with Hillary Clinton if he jumps in the race for president, highlighting his experience and willingness to tackle tough issues in response to repeated questions on her candidacy.
Jim Webb cites criminal justice reform in Hillary Clinton contrast
"The message we see across the board, that we are receiving, is that people want to see fresh leadership and different ideas and they want to see a track record," he told CNN's John King on Friday.
Webb touted his early efforts on criminal justice reform in contrast to Clinton, who spoke out on the issue this week in the wake of protests following the death of an African American man in Baltimore police custody.
"Secretary Clinton yesterday gave a speech on criminal justice reform — I've been talking about this for 9 years," he said.
And in a less-direct but still pointed knock on the former secretary of State, Webb hinted at another criticism Clinton's faced since launching her second bid for president, that she's only recently come around to supporting controversial issues like same-sex marriage and drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants to appease the Democratic Party base.
The former senator said he spoke out on criminal justice reform even though advisers told him he was "committing political suicide" by doing so.
"We put ourselves on the line. We took the hits and we did it. We didn't wait until all of a sudden, now it's easy to talk about the issue, before we talked about it," he said.
Webb said he's heard from supporters that "we don't always agree with you, but we know that what you're saying is what you really mean."
Polling has shown the blue-dog Democrat barely cracking single-digit support in the potential presidential primary fight, while Clinton routinely gets the backing of a large majority of Democrats.
But he dismissed that polling, suggesting it was skewed by his lack of name identification, and said he's gotten an "incredibly good responses from people who are independents, a lot of them the old-style Truman-Roosevelt-type Democrats who want to see the Democratic Party come back to the base of working people."
While those comments echo calls from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party for a populist challenger to Clinton, Webb declined to say whether he was talking about the former secretary of State when pressed repeatedly by King.
More broadly, Webb suggested America wasn't facing up to its issues with race.
"[There's a] breakdown in how we tend to think in this country that we have solved the racial and ethnic differences, and we really haven't. We've created a veneer over the top on all racial and gender issues in the country," he said.
But unlike some of his potential Republican presidential opponents, Webb said he doesn't fault President Barack Obama for the racial issues that have gripped America recently. He said that "the base of both parties have been at odds in a way that I haven't seen in my adult lifetime," and drew on his experience as a boxer as evidence that sparring with your opponents shouldn't exacerbate racial divisions — rather, it should draw people together.
"When you spend eight years in the ring with people, you don't particularly look at what racial background they have," he said. "By the end of the fight generally you're friends with the people you've been with."