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Former Senator Webb sets up panel to explore 2016 presidential bid

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[November 20, 2014]  (Reuters) - Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat, became the first person to officially take serious steps towards a bid for the U.S. presidency in 2016 with the launch of an exploratory committee late on Wednesday.

"Americans want positive, visionary leadership that they can trust, at a time when our country is facing historic challenges," Webb, 68, wrote in a four-page letter on his website, Webb2016.com.

"I made this decision after reflecting on numerous political commentaries and listening to many knowledgeable people," he said. "I look forward to listening and talking with more people in the coming months as I decide whether or not to run."

By forming an exploratory committee, Webb is not committing to a full-scale campaign, but formally acknowledging his interest in pursuing the White House.

A Vietnam veteran who left the Senate in 2013 and who previously served as Secretary of the Navy under Republican President Ronald Reagan between 1987 and 1988, Webb is considered a long shot to win the Democratic nomination.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has said she will decide whether or not to run in early 2015, is widely regarded as the frontrunner.

"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 wrote, acknowledging he has no full-time campaign staff, and listing problems from income inequality and faltering American infrastructure to "reducing ill-considered foreign ventures."

(Reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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