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Thoughts on Mark Warner's Droput and Future
10/12/2006 10:47:00 PM | Nathan Empsall

As you've no doubt heard by now, former Virginia Governor Mark Warner has stunningly announced he will not seek the '08 Democratic presidential nomination. I myself am particularly surprised, as I thought Warner had about a 1/3 shot at actually winning.

Although Biden is my first hope and Feingold my second for the nomination, I do wish Warner had stayed in the race, for two reasons. First, this opens the door to other candidates competing for the anti-Hilary mantle, particularly Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN). The Washington Post's Chris Cilliza writes, "Bayh and Warner shared much of the same ideological territory -- moderate, consensus builders elected in red states. ...Warner's ascent came at the expense of Bayh, who found much of the air sucked out of his candidacy. No longer. Party insiders say that there was a major behind-the-scenes fight for donors and activists between Bayh and Warner." While I may disagree with some of Warner's policies, I've met him twice, and I find him to be genuine and trustworthy. Bayh, not so much. While I've only met him once, he seems slick, telling people what he thinks they want to hear, making it up as he goes (we briefly discussed poverty). His voting record is also suspicious - he's drifted to the left the last couple years, despite a previous moderate record and a moderate reputation. He has the moderate credentials locked up for a General Election run; is he now abusing his powers as a Senator to lock up liberal primary credentials, as well? (WP's Cilliza also looks at what this means for John Edwards.) The second reason I hate to see Warner go is his ability to unite the country. How the heck does a Democrat leave office in Virginia with an 80% approval rating? Even though I wouldn't have supported his nomination bid, I'll still say, the country needs a uniter at this point, and Warner was the best person to fit that particularly bill.

So, what's next for Mark Warner? He did explicitly say he's not ruling out a future run for office, and at 51, he's still relatively young. My first thought was that he'd make a behind-the-scenes bid for Vice President when the time comes, but while possible, I'm not so sure it's likely. The AP reports, "In the end, Warner exited the race even before he had officially entered it, fearing the impact of a full-blown campaign on his wife, Lisa Collis, and his daughters, age 12, 15 and 16." A full-blown campaign for VP wouldn't have much of a different impact on his family than a campaign for the top job would - fewer character attacks, perhaps, but the same keeps-you-away-from-home schedule. A Cabinet post, assuming a Democrat wins in '08, is another possibility, but I don't think it's a likely one, either - while it would fit with Warner's comments about wanting to stay in the fight to improve our country, it's not in keeping with his political tendencies. The man ran for the Senate and came close to winning, he was elected Governor in a close campaign, he helped elect Tim Kaine in a close campaign, he's traveled the country stumping for a number of candidates, and now he's focusing on the Webb-Allen race (thank God). According to the National Journal's Hotline, "Warner's travel schedule was intense -- nearly 86 public events in the past nine months and more than 200 private meetings -- and it would only become more grueling. 'He loved all that and he loved the grind. He's a political animal,' said Monica Dixon, Warner's chief policy adviser." What in that says Cabinet post?

All things considered, I think the likeliest of events is that Warner will run for an open VA Senate seat in 2008. Sen. John Warner (R), now 79, is not only getting older, but his term as Chairman (soon to be Ranking Member?) of the Armed Forces Committee is about to end. Another Hotline post speculates that he won't want to serve another six years in the Senate, watching someone else "chair the committee he sought for two decades." So chances are we'll have an open seat in Virginia, and given Allen's current close race, Kaine's presence in the Governor's Mansion, the close '04 results (Bush won with just 52%), the growing blueness of Northern Virginia, and Warner's popularity, it will certainly be a competitive seat.

The job would be perfect for Warner. We know it's up his alley - he ran against the other Warner in the seat's last race, 1998. It would keep him involved influencing in the nation's course, something he has said he would like to do. And it would set him up perfectly for another presidential bid - one he might be more interested in, since his youngest child will be 22 and presumably out of the house by 2016. Time on either the Armed Services or Foreign Relations Committee would give him foreign experience he currently lacks. The term would end in time to retire and focus on campaigning for the 2016 election, when he'll be 61, or he could wait another four years and run at 67 at the end of his second Senate term, in 2020.

There are two other possibilities. The first is honest-to-god retirement, but that's no fun to speculate about, so I'm going to ignore it. :-p The second is another run for the Governor's mansion in 2009 (Virginia bans consecutive terms, but not multiple terms). The job is his for the asking, given his 80% approval rating, the popular Rep. Tom Davis (R)'s interest in the Senate seat, the lack of obvious Kaine heirs, and the relative anonymity of the potential GOP nominees. Hotline's take: "An '09 GOV run, however, would mean a term that wouldn't begin until January of 2010. Warner, therefore, would have to start getting back to Des Moines and Manchester (and Vegas?) by the end of his first year back in the mansion. ...Would Virginians tolerate Warner returning for Richmond for a cup of coffee before heading out the door for another Harkin Steak Fry just months later? Timing is everything in politics, and it probably wouldn't work in this scenario if Warner has his eye on a WH run in 2012. But... he'd not yet be 60 when leaving office in 2014."

I think the Senate race is most likely, but one thing's for sure: this changes the way I view presidential nomination contests. Perhaps some, even most, of the potential candidates actually mean it when they say they haven't decided yet whether or not to run for office. Yes, it's possible Warner is bowing out with plans to step back in later having seemed above the fray, whether now or later, but let's not be cynical. That level of planning is unlikely. Anything can change over the next few years in politics, which Warner knows, so it would be silly to lay such a detailed and risky foundation now for something so far off in the future.



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