The Top Story by Chris Graham
For Virginia Gov. Mark Warner to be able to run a viable campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2008, does he need to see his top lieutenant win his job in November?
This is the question on the minds of more than a few people in Old Dominion pol circles as the ’05 state-election season heats up.
“In the end, people live and die in the world of politics on what they do themselves,” Christopher Newport University political scientist Quentin Kidd told The Augusta Free Press.“And in Mark Warner’s case, he was able to win an election as a Democrat running in a conservative and increasingly Republican state. That builds his credibility. As does the fact that the Democrats have gained seats in the General Assembly during his term,” Kidd said.
“Unless Tim Kaine were to run a very similar kind of campaign as Mark Warner ran in 2001, and then lose, and that were to send the message that Warner’s message was no longer resonating with the voters in Virginia, I don’t see how what happens in 2005 can hurt Warner in the future,” Kidd said.
Kidd’s is one prevailing view. Another, offered by University of Virginia Center for Politics analyst Peter Jackson, does have Warner’s future tied somewhat to what happens in the November election to Kaine, the lieutenant governor and presumptive Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee.
“If Warner is able to help Tim Kaine get elected, that would be a sign to the national Democratic Party that he could possibly deliver his home state to the Democratic side,” Jackson told the AFP. “If he isn’t able to help Kaine get through, though, that could be a sign that, like Al Gore in 2000, who lost his home state of Tennessee, he couldn’t be relied on to carry his home state, and that could hurt him in the eyes of Democrats voting in the primaries.”
Jackson’s colleague at the UVa. Center for Politics, political analyst Matt Smyth, agrees that “a lot (about Warner’s future) could depend on what happens in November.”
“We’re likely to see the governor put a significant amount of effort into the Tim Kaine campaign this year. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see it billed in some circles as a sort of second Mark Warner term, or at least a continuation of the Mark Warner legacy,” Smyth told the AFP.
“One problem there is that Tim Kaine is slightly less moderate politically than Mark Warner is,” Smyth said. “Another is what would happen were Tim Kaine to lose. If he were to lose a close race, it shouldn’t have any impact on Mark Warner’s political future. But if Tim Kaine were to lose by a wide margin, that could carry some negative consequences down the line for the governor.”
University of Mary Washington political-science professor Stephen Farnsworth thinks the stakes would be higher for Warner “if he were running for re-election himself.”
“But with the presidential-nomination process being as erratic as it is, I don’t know how much an election in which his name is not on the ballot is going to play into his political future,” Farnsworth told the AFP.
“Mark Warner is at a level already where he can compete as a viable candidate in the presidential-nomination process,” Farnsworth said. “He’s a Democratic governor in a Southern state. He has won an election in a state that is solidly Republican. Mark Warner is in a position that few Democrats are in. He can win in the Republican South.
“The biggest single issue that the national Democratic Party faces now is how to keep from becoming a regional party. It needs to remain a national party,” Farnsworth said. “If Democratic Party activists look closely at Warner, they’ll like what they see. What he has done in Virginia is what the party needs to do nationally.”
George Mason University political scientist Mark Rozell, like Kidd, doesn’t see the November 2005 election in Virginia as being critical to Warner’s political aspirations down the road.
“Sometimes, many times, these things get overstated,” Rozell told the AFP. “If Tim Kaine loses in November, people will assign the blame to the candidate himself, not to the governor who somehow failed to transfer his popularity to his nomination successor.
“If Kaine were to win, it could generate a moderate amount of buzz for Mark Warner. But it would be a temporary boost at best. By the time the 2008 primaries roll around, people aren’t going to be looking back at what happened in Virginia in 2005 either way,” Rozell said.
Virginia Tech poli-sci professor Bob Denton sees things much the same way.
“I’m not sure that the outcome of this year’s race will carry a tremendous amount of weight on whatever his next move is,” Denton told the AFP. “In politics, each race tends to take on a unique character all its own. You saw that a few years ago with George Allen when he had to wait a few years between the end of his term as governor to run for Chuck Robb’s Senate seat. Despite the fact that he’d been out of the game, he picked up where he’d left off, and he led the whole way in his race with Robb.
“Warner has positioned himself well for either a run at the Senate seat of Allen or the White House,” Denton said. “If it is the White House that he decides that he wants to go after, that’s a tough mountain to climb. That’s the case for anybody, of course. There’s no doubt that he’s an ambitious person, and I don’t mean that in a negative way.
“Running for president is itself a tough job, and it takes a certain amount of ego, a commitment of time and a lot of money to undertake such an endeavor,” Denton said.
Rozell as well pointed to the ambition issue as being a key consideration in a discussion of Warner’s political aspirations.
“Mark Warner is an ambitious man. He wasn’t satisfied with just making a few hundred million dollars. He’s not likely to decide that a successful four-year term as governor is going to be enough and then ride off into the sunset,” Rozell said.