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Chris Graham: What will Warner do?

The short answer: I don’t know any more than anybody else. Not that this stops me from having some strong thoughts on the subject.

Spending a day with the frustrated junior senator on Capitol Hill a few weeks ago, well, I kinda gave myself away there, calling him frustrated. It was clear to me that Warner could do without being forced to be the guy to bang the gavel to open and close the Senate on Mondays and Fridays so that other members can make speeches on C-SPAN that nobody will watch, among other things.

The deepest source of frustration for the Democrat is that the two party caucuses don’t seem to even want to deal with each other. He demonstrated this to me as we walked toward a closed-door lunch with the Senate Democratic Caucus.

The Republicans have their own closed-door lunch, Warner said. And he imagines that the GOP does in its closed-door lunch what the Democrats do in theirs – plot strategy on how to advance their agenda, how to get their bills to move forward, how to win the political scorecard at the end of the day.

I think that Warner expected when he ran for the Senate in 2008 that he could be a driving force for breaking through that logjam. Look back at his record as governor of Virginia from 2002-2006. Working with Republican majorities in the House of Delegates and State Senate, Warner was able to achieve budget, schools and transportation reforms that pushed Virginia into the realm of being named the best managed state in America and the best state to do business in the nation.

Then he goes to the Senate, and he’s stuck talking with Democrats and banging the gavel for TV cameras when party leaders want to go back home.

My insight, such as it is, into what Warner might do in regard to the 2013 Virginia governor’s race comes from a couple of offhand remarks from Warner made while we were walking Capitol Hall and another set of comments from staffers.

I can’t say that there was anything at all even close to being definitive as to what the senator might be thinking. I’ll also say that I was not dissuaded from thinking that Warner might be at least privately considering making a run.

The numbers from Public Policy Polling last week that have Warner cleaning the clocks of the GOP field if he were to enter the race show the stakes at play. The two leading non-Warner Democratic Party candidates, Terry McAuliffe and Tom Perriello, would be locked in tight races with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

And Warner clearly still pays close attention to what goes on in Richmond. He told me that he was “disappointed” in the tone of the General Assembly in its 2012 session, with House Republicans pushing an extreme social-issue agenda that made Virginia a laughingstock on late-night comedy TV.

“I don’t think that’s where most Virginians are at in terms of what they want the legislature to deal with, which is, how do we make sure our schools are good and our roads are fixed and we stay pro-business and also stay a state that’s moving forward in terms of job growth. Instead we became the brunt of late-night jokes, and Virginia became an outlier state. I don’t think that’s good for the state or good for business,” Warner said.

Does this sound like a guy who hasn’t at least thought about maybe running for governor in 2013?

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