Dr Cameron Webb could soon add “US congressman” to his already impressive résumé.
Last week, the 37-year-old internal medicine physician won the Democratic primary election in Virginia’s fifth congressional district. He beat three rivals and earned an impressive two-thirds of the vote, garnering praise from California Senator Kamala Harris.
If Webb defeats his Trump-supporting Republican opponent in November’s election, he will be the first black physician to vote in Congress.
After completing law school at Loyola and his medical residency at Cornell, Webb launched his political career as a White House fellow. At the time, Webb worked in the office of cabinet affairs – the executive office of Barack Obama, who was president. He fondly recalled one week where he was in a room with the former president on four separate occasions.
“I was the only doctor on the healthcare team,” Webb told the Guardian proudly.
Halfway through his fellowship, however, the White House and the country came under new leadership.
“Our expectation was that we were going to work for the first black president and the first woman president,” Webb said. “Instead, President Trump came in.”
Once the new administration took office, the door was quite literally closed on Webb. “It was the tale of two administrations. They moved my desk out into the hallway. Nobody was talking to me,” Webb said. “Nobody wanted me to help with anything.”
Eventually, Webb went on to work on drug pricing, teaming up with the late congressman Elijah Cummings.
“I worked closely with folks in the Trump administration on drug prices because that was the only issue where they trusted me.”
Webb said his work had always been at the intersection of healthcare and social justice, which is what prompted his venture into politics. He said he looks at healthcare in the United States through his lens as a physician – not through the lens of a politician.
“People can’t wait to get insurance. That includes the 30 million-plus who didn’t have insurance before Covid,” Webb said. “[As a White House fellow,] I worked on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Twenty million people did gain insurance but premiums were raised for employers and employees. As we move forward, I believe the most equitable and just version of healthcare is Medicare for All.”
At a time when healthcare is at the forefront of national conversation, Webb explained why he is the best person for the job.
“Covid created the most critical moment we’ve seen in this country for reforming our healthcare system,” Webb said. “So many people lost their jobs in a setting where 50% of those who have health insurance get it from their employer. We have to design a system that delivers on the promise that no one should go broke for accessing healthcare.”
Webb has been criticized for being too progressive by moderates and for being too centrist by progressives. He wants to make it clear that he is first and foremost, a scientist.
“I define myself as someone who is driven by data and evidence and best practices. As clinicians, that’s how we solve problems,” Webb said. “I am just passionate about equity and justice. That drives my policy positions. That’s a progressive notion in our country and it shouldn’t be. It should just be the American dream.”
Alongside running a highly contested congressional campaign, Webb has also been conducting local Covid-19 testing at the University of Virginia medical center.
“This administration did a terrible job speaking about the pandemic. I’m not talking about Dr Fauci or Dr Birx – I’m talking about President Donald Trump,” Webb said. “The failure to ramp up testing has been problematic for our entire country.”
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Webb already prioritized issues like healthcare and criminal justice reform and the climate crisis. He was even called a “climate extremist” by his opponent Bob Good of Lynchburg, Virginia, whom he hopes to defeat in November.
Good, a former athletics director at the private christian Liberty University, became the Republican nominee in Virginia’s fifth district after beating incumbent congressman, Denver Riggleman. While Riggleman also prides himself on conservative beliefs, he caught flak within his own party for officiating a same-sex wedding between two of his campaign volunteers, which worked in Good’s favor.
Good touts his support for constitutionalism, protecting second amendment rights and financial stewardship. However, Good has raised only $186,303 to Webb’s $721,898 (according to FEC campaign finance reports). Democrats believe the same district that voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016 is now seeing a political shift that could award Webb a historic place in the US Congress.
Today, Webb is also pressing his foot on the gas to address police brutality.
“I don’t think it’s ever been easy to be a black man in society,” Webb said. “I see the extrajudicial killing of black men and women as a public health crisis. Post the murder of George Floyd, it is more critical than ever to tie covid into that healthcare conversation.”
“As an African American in our society, there’s so many things that are harder for me. We’re focusing on the movement for black lives and the black and brown individuals dying at the hands of covid and law enforcement. This is the moment to fight for justice no matter who you are and where you are.”