Story by Chris Graham
The big winner in last week’s Virginia gubernatorial election was Democrat Tim Kaine.
Or was it Democrat Mark Warner?
“Mark Warner created the conditions for a Democratic victory in this state for Tim Kaine, no doubt about it,” George Mason University political-science professor Mark Rozell said.
“This state has trended Republican sufficiently that the guy with the R next to his name has a large presumption in his favor. But in this election cycle, with a very popular incumbent Democrat, and a lieutenant governor running to succeed him, that made it possible for the Democrats to prevail again,” Rozell said.
“It’s going to add to the luster of Mark Warner as he thinks about running for higher office in the next few years,” Rozell told The Augusta Free Press.
That has been the talk of Richmond for two years running – that Warner is going to make himself a player in the 2008 Democratic Party presidential sweepstakes.
Warner himself fueled the speculative fires with his announcement earlier this year that he would not seek the 2006 Democratic Party nomination to run for the United States Senate seat currently held by another presidential hopeful, Republican George Allen.
In an interview that aired earlier this month on C-SPAN, Warner downplayed the talk that he was readying himself for a run at the White House.
“Whether me or someone else is the right person for that, I don’t know. I’ll tell you this much. I’m proud of what I’ve done, and I’ve got some confidence. But the whole notion of even considering applying for the job of what is arguably the most powerful job in the country makes my stomach churn,” Warner said.
Warner’s ability to get Democrats elected in successive gubernatorial elections in red-state Virginia might keep his stomach churning for at least the next two or three years.
“From the point of view of people looking at Mark Warner as a potential presidential candidate, they’re going to be asking the question, was Mark Warner a fluke? Was his win something of an aberration? What last week’s results show is that Mark Warner is much more formidable a politician than just somebody who can beat a Republican one time,” University of Mary Washington political-science professor Stephen Farnsworth said.
“There aren’t a lot of places in the South that elect two Democratic governors in a row. There aren’t a lot of places in the South where Democrats win seats in the legislature two cycles in a row. A lot of that is due to Mark Warner. So no doubt about it. Mark Warner’s presidential aspirations were greatly aided with these results. His stock rises among those candidates trying to catch up with Hillary Clinton,” Farnsworth told the AFP.
As much as Warner seems to have gained from Kaine’s win at the polls last week, some have been trying to talk up the idea that Allen’s reputation took a bit of a blow from protege Jerry Kilgore’s stunning defeat.
“It’s taken a bit of a hit,” University of Virginia Center for Politics analyst Matt Smyth said.
“George Allen is still popular with Virginians, to be sure. This doesn’t mean that they disapprove of what he has been doing as senator or anything. But his influence, to the degree to which he exerted it in the race this fall, which wasn’t nearly as much as the influence that Mark Warner had, didn’t prove to be a boon to Jerry Kilgore,” Smyth told the AFP.
“You have to give the early edge to Warner. But then you have to consider that in January, Warner is going to be out of office, and Allen is still going to be Virginia’s junior senator. So things could change over the course of the next couple of years,” Smyth said.
Farnsworth feels that Allen is actually one of the frontrunners for the ’08 GOP presidential nod.
“The declining popularity of George W. Bush makes it difficult to imagine Florida Gov. Jeb Bush running. And the various troubles of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist also reduce his chances of being a viable candidate. So why is going to be the religious-right candidate for 2008?” Farnsworth said.
“The other contenders are John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, but neither one is ever going to get the support of the religious right, and you’re never going to win the Republican nomination without the support of the religious right,” Farnsworth said.
“The way to sum this up is, Allen’s fortunes are a result of things going on outside of Virginia, and Warner’s fortunes are a result of things going on inside of Virginia,” Farnsworth said.
Warner’s last word on the subject in his C-SPAN interview was that a run at the presidency is “way, way down on the list in terms of consideration.”
“The timetable is I’m hopefully going to finish this job strong, and have this path where I will try to be part of the national debate,” Warner said.
“I don’t have a fixed timetable. I do want to be a voice in urging the Democratic Party to recapture the sensible center. I think the Democrats in this country are the minority party in this country. I think we not only have to invigorate more folks to get registered and part of the grand Democratic family, but I think we need to go get some other folks who maybe haven’t voted Democrat in a long time, or maybe have never voted Democrat, and urge them to take a fresh look,” Warner said.
Another last word comes from Kaine at his victory party in Richmond last week.
“On behalf of all Virginians, let me say from the bottom of my heart, we all thank you, Gov. Warner. We thank you. And may I just say, I’m looking forward to standing with you at your next victory party,” Kaine said.