Was the governor ready for his closeup? Warner makes national debut with speech on big night at national convention

The Top Story by Chris Graham

 

Gov. Mark Warner was able to deliver one particularly good line in his brief speech to the Democratic National Convention Thursday night.

Noting that the Old Dominion hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, Warner went Old Testament, invoking images of the Israelites fleeing Egypt to analogize Virginia voters fleeing the GOP.

“Moses wandered in the desert for 40 years. Virginia has been wandering in the Republican desert for 40 years. But this year, no Bush will tell us what to do. This year, our wandering is over,” Warner said to thunderous applause at the Fleet Center in Boston, a little more than three hours before Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry accepted the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Before you get too excited about Warner’s presence on the stage on the national party’s big night, though … the 7:13 p.m. speech was ignored by the major networks and the three national cable-news outlets.

It was carried to the world only by C-SPAN – which could render all the talk about how Warner might get a bounce from the convention speech all the way to a potential President Kerry Cabinet position into being so much hot air.

“I wouldn’t get too excited. What the party was trying to do this week was roll out every Democratic governor and major elected officeholder outside of the Beltway that they could so that they could show that they have party unity,” Bridgewater College political-science professor David McQuilkin told The Augusta Free Press.

“I really don’t see the governor being considered for a Cabinet position. He might be thrown out there as the head of some kind of federal agency, which would be more commensurate with the skills that he can bring to the table. But I really don’t see him being a major player in national politics down the road. I don’t see him reaching the level of the national party elites,” McQuilkin said.

“It’s nice that they’re giving him this boost, but I don’t see it being more than a short-term boost,” McQuilkin said.

James Madison University political-science professor Bob Roberts has a decidedly different take on Warner’s future on the national political stage.

“The governor has stated repeatedly that he isn’t going to run for the Senate in 2006 against George Allen. Consequently, I think what we’re looking at here is interest in a Cabinet position,” Roberts told the AFP.

“I suspect that if Kerry wins in November, the governor could be in line for a fairly high-profile Cabinet position, for example, secretary of commerce. He could serve in the Cabinet for four years, and then see if Sen. (John) Warner decides in 2008 not to run for re-election,” Roberts said.

It’s not just the likes of Roberts who are touting Warner as an up-and-comer in Democratic Party circles. Newsweek magazine this week listed the 49-year-old governor as one of the party’s “bright Democratic lights.”

And then there’s Kerry himself – who considered Warner for the #2 spot on the national ticket before settling on North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

“People in the party leadership recognize that the governor is a successful Democrat with a future in the party,” said Matt Smyth of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, who spent the week at the convention to get a firsthand view of the goings-on.

“He’s not well-known and well-recognized among the party activists yet, but this speech is the kind of national exposure that could give him the level of recognition that he would need to make his entrance onto the national stage,” Smyth told the AFP.

“He’s already a known commodity to the party leadership, and this could be something that gives him the opportunity to take the story of his successes in Virginia to a broader audience,” Smyth said.

Those successes could be an issue that Virginia Republicans will bring to question if and when Warner makes his leap into the national party elite.

“It’s interesting that he’s talking about promoting fiscal responsibility to a national audience when his message here in Virginia was that to be fiscally responsible we had to raise taxes,” said Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, the chairman of the House Republican Caucus.

Landes and the House GOP fought Warner tooth and nail on the 2004-2006 state budget that was passed this past spring. The centerpiece of the budget was a $1.4 billion tax-increase measure that Warner said was necessary to help the state meet its core service obligations.

Warner talked about the budget battle that led to the passage of the tax increases in his speech to the nation Thursday night.

“We’ve always said you cannot prepare for tomorrow until you get your fiscal house in order today,” Warner said. “And that will be John Kerry’s approach when we take back the White House.”

“Virginia is a perfect example of fiscal responsibility. This state has a tradition of fiscally responsible leaders, Republican and Democrat. I do disagree with the governor’s contention that we’re being fiscally responsible as a result of our having raised taxes this year,” Landes said.

“He’s running for higher office, and this is something that he wants to leave behind as his legacy,” Landes said. “I think it’s an interesting legacy to want to leave behind, personally.”

Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge, picked up on a related theme – specifically, how Warner said repeatedly during his 2001 gubernatorial campaign that he wasn’t going to raise taxes.

“If Gov. Warner is speaking about how to mislead the public during a campaign, then turning around and doing what he said he wasn’t going to do, then I think that’s a lesson that John Kerry learned a long time ago,” Cline told the AFP.

“Gov. Warner said repeatedly during his campaign that he would not raise taxes. And then at the first opportunity that presented itself, that’s what he did,” Cline said.

State Democrats are not concerned about the partisan jibes being lobbed by their counterparts in the Virginia GOP.

“We believe that the governor represents the true face of the Democratic Party, which is a party that truly believes in fiscal responsibility and fiscal conservatism. So we’re excited and proud that our governor is here to share the success story of what has taken place in Virginia with the national convention delegates,” Democratic Party of Virginia spokesperson Laura Bland told the AFP from Boston.

“We in the Democratic Party of Virginia certainly believe that Mark Warner has a bright future on the national stage. We think this is just the beginning of what will be a long-term presence for the governor in national party politics,” Bland said.

The guy giving the speech for the delegates in Beantown and the viewers watching across the country on C-SPAN did look ready for his closeup, with apologies to Mr. DeMille.

“I’m going to answer a question that a lot of y’all have been asking this week … yes, John Kerry can win Virginia and across the South,” Warner said.

“And with your help, he will,” Warner said.





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