Where does Warner stand in ’08 nomination race?

The Top Story by Chris Graham

 

Mark Warner sure has come a long way since the days when his claim to political fame was that he once came in second among candidates with the surname Warner in a United States Senate race.

The former one-term Virginia governor is now considered by more than a few observers to be one of the top three or four contenders for the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination – and while it is still early to get too worked up about these kinds of things, the talk that the Warner name could very well have a place reserved on one of the two slots on the national party ticket two years hence is starting to get a bit louder.

“He has positioned himself very well to be on the ticket, if not at the head, as vice president,” said Bob Denton, a political-science professor at Virginia Tech.

“Even to be mentioned as a serious contender gives you a certain flexibility and stature. It allows him to potentially be on the ticket. It allows him to possibly hold a high Cabinet position in a Democratic administration even if he’s not successful in getting on the ticket. He would seem to have a lot of options right now,” Denton told The Augusta Free Press.

Warner has spent a good bit of his time since finishing out his term as governor in January making the rounds in Iowa and New Hampshire – the first two tests in what promises to be a wide-open race on both sides of the political aisle in ’08, what with the lack of an incumbent in the contest, given that President Bush, now in his second term, cannot succeed himself.

Warner has not formally entered the nomination field as of yet – he told the AFP earlier this month that he will announce his intentions regarding the 2008 race following the congressional elections in November.

Officially, then, according to Warner, his visits to Iowa and New Hampshire and other political hotspots have him “campaigning for Democrats and laying out my ideas about where I think we go from here in this country.”

A focal point for Warner on these cross-country trips has been on burnishing his credentials to speak on foreign policy and homeland security – which he will need to do with the primacy afforded those issues in post-9/11 America.

“I acknowledge that we are safer. I acknowledge that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the president performed well. But what he didn’t do was call upon that spirit that all of us wanted – there would have been no sacrifice too small that all of us wouldn’t have been willing to make,” Warner told reporters at an event in Rockbridge County earlier this month.

“If he would’ve said at that point, hey, we ought to get rid of an energy policy where we borrow money from China so we can buy oil from countries around the world that don’t like us, and if he’d asked us to think differently to think about energy and global warming and national security, I think Americans would have responded. But he didn’t use that opportunity,” Warner said.

“I think the president’s unilateral focus on Iraq has taken the eye off of homeland security, and it’s taken the eye off of how we finish the job in terms of running Al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan and capturing Osama bin Laden,” Warner said.

“So we are safer – but there’s so much more that could be done,” Warner said.

Warner has also been using his time in the potential-presidential-contender spotlight to offer pointed criticisms of the administration’s fiscal policies.

“You’ve got still a general approach that says Democrats only want to look at the revenue side, Republicans only want to look at the spending side – but we’re in such a deep hole, even though the deficit has improved marginally this year, that nobody denies that we’ve got a train wreck coming over the next 25 years as the baby boomers hit retirement age. People know that in their gut,” Warner said.

“I would like to see more discussion about the budget. I would like to see more discussion about competitiveness strategy. I really think that one of the issues in addition to security that we need to connect the dots is between energy policy, global warming, American job creation and national security. That connection seems so obvious – but it’s not been looked at nearly enough,” Warner said.

Warner will need to hit on these themes early and often to emerge from the crowded field of Democratic Party contenders, according to Geoffrey Hill, a research professor emeritus at Utah State and the editor and publisher of DemocratPresident2008.com.

“I don’t think the country can handle another Northeast liberal candidate. I think we need to go outside – which leaves (Indiana senator) Evan Bayh and Mark Warner as the people who have good vote-getting records in fairly decent-sized states and currently red states. So I’ve been considering Evan Bayh and Mark Warner as the most electable candidates. But that said, neither one has made any major national policy speeches to this point – and I think that’s a big mistake,” Hill told the AFP.

“I get the impression that (Democratic National Committee chairman) Howard Dean and company are getting the candidates to restrain themselves so that they can focus on the Senate and House races. If that’s happening, then I think that’s actually a negative for the Democrats – because there is a perception out there that the Republicans are using and saying that, Well, the Democrats keep criticizing, but they don’t have any plans themselves,” Hill said.

“I would like to see Mark Warner make some big policy statements. Why is it so important to gain control of the Congress? I don’t think a lot of people realize the importance of control of the Congress. He could give a speech on just how important it is to Democrats – going through all of the details of how important it is that Democrats gain control of the House and Senate. That would be one topic. Another would be how to win and disengage us from Iraq. How better can we thwart terrorism? And why shouldn’t we act really quickly to change our policy on energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil?” Hill said.

“He could outline any of those things, make a major speech on it, in support of the Democrats, and significantly increase his chances. But if he doesn’t do that, he runs the risk of becoming one of many other Democrats who are doing and saying the same thing,” Hill said.

“So the question is – how is Mark Warner going to distinguish himself with the 10 or so people who will show up?” Hill said.

Denton offers a different perspective on that issue.

“I think he (Warner) is doing all the right things right now,” Denton said. “He’s been meeting with long-time Democratic operatives. Some of them have even joked that he’s going to president school. He’s certainly been trying to prepare. He’s learning. He’s been well-received so far in the field.

“This is the time when you do your up-front work,” Denton said. “He has some people from the Gore campaign and the Kerry campaign on his team. He’s surrounding himself and has access to some very experienced people. He’s very systematic – almost approaching it as a businessperson would. He’s very systematic doing a lot of the up-front issue work now, doing the actual studying. He’s trying to learn as much as he can, and he is a quick learner. I think he’s doing everything he possibly can.

“I think he’s fairly well-positioned for where we are at this point in the process, quite frankly,” Denton said.

 

(Published 09-18-06)

 

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