Analysis: What happens to Mark Warner in 2016?

warnerAssuming a Mark Warner re-election in November, and it seems safe to assume that, with the Democrat up 25 points in the most recent poll, from Roanoke College, on Republican rival Ed Gillespie, what happens from here on out for Virginia’s senior United States senator?

Warner, who turns 60 this year, surely isn’t in this for the fun of being in the Senate, the world’s most deliberative body-turned-the world’s most useless legislative chamber. With net worth reportedly over $200 million, Warner could easily sit back and enjoy his approaching senior years without having to deal with the nonsense of filibusters and cloture votes and banging the gavel in front of an empty Senate chamber.

The prize that has his eyes is a possible presidential bid, be it in 2016, if presumed Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton doesn’t make a run, as some are speculating may happen, or a little further down the road. A hypothetical Clinton win in 2016 is a potential eight-year roadblock, meaning Warner would be 69 by the time he’d be able to make a run in the open in 2024. Assuming he continues to age well, he’d be a young 69, so age wouldn’t be a hindrance in any way, leaving that far-off date as something of a possibility.

Now examining the idea of Warner taking a spot as a Clinton running mate: Clinton as nominee would be wise to look to Virginia for her veep, putting Warner and junior senator Tim Kaine as top-of-the-vet-listers a couple of summers hence. Virginia has become a key part of the Democratic Electoral College strategy, with Barack Obama winning the state in 2008 and 2012, the only Democrat to win Virginia in a presidential election since Lyndon Johnson. Democrats have run well at the statewide level in recent cycles, and putting a native son on the presidential ticket would go a long way to keeping Virginia in the blue in ’16, and maybe would assist in bringing along at least North Carolina, and maybe even teasing bringing West Virginia into play.

Whether Warner would accept a second spot on a national ticket is a question. The bet here is that he would, with the thinking being that it would raise his national profile, and if the ticket were to win, as veep he would at least be in the discussion at the end of Clinton’s tenure.

But we might be looking past something else: a run for president for Warner in 2016 even if Clinton decides as most expect to enter the race for the nomination. This isn’t out of the realm of possibility, though I’d have to rate the likelihood as low, just because people like Warner who are successful in business and politics don’t get that way by making bad reads. Warner would be competing for the same part of the Democratic Party base that Clinton would, the business-focused moderates, but unlike Clinton, the presumed heavy favorite if she is to enter the race, Warner would be facing a stiff headwind.

So that brings us back to 2014. Warner hasn’t won re-election yet, and as the example of Eric Cantor has taught us, being up big in the early polls can mean nothing. That having been said, Warner will win, and win big. Gillespie seems to be in the race mainly to raise his profile, perhaps for a run for governor in 2017, and will be working his tail off to get to within single digits by Election Night. Warner, for his part, will be focused on maximizing his vote totals, running to the last minute like he’s 10 points behind, because his goal will be to win, win big, and use the big win to begin making his case for either a run for president or at the least a spot on the ticket in 2016.

– Column by Chris Graham