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White House ’08: What Will Warner Do?

Column by Chris Graham

So … what’s Mark Warner going to do between now and Nov. 4, other than coast to victory in his U.S. Senate race with Jim Gilmore about as easily as Barack Obama coasted to victory in his Senate race in ’04 in Illinois?

Funny I should mention that name, Barack Obama. Who in ’04 delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, like Warner did at this summer’s DNC. And who is now the odds-on favorite to be the next POTUS, though we’re still 20 days out from Election Day, and he needs to finalize the leads he has in a number of key battleground states, including Virginia, where he’s running 10 points ahead of Republican John McCain in a new CNN/Time poll released today, and it wouldn’t hurt at all to get the backing of the most popular politician in Virginia history who’s on his way to a 30-point landslide.

Which brings me back to my question. What is Mark Warner going to do between now and Nov. 4? Because he’s been noticeably quiet on the presidential front the past few weeks.

“I strongly support Sen. Obama. Most of these folks here support Sen. McCain. At the end of the day, I’m going to work with whoever is the next president. I just think what people are looking for is who is going to get our country back on the right path,” Warner told me during a recent campaign stop in Harrisonburg, during which he picked up the endorsement of several Shenandoah Valley Republicans, including former State Senate majority leader John Chichester and longtime House of Delegates member Pete Giesen.

Warner admitted to having some issues with his massive electoral coalition vis-a-vis the presidential race. He was traveling the state the day that we talked with Chichester and another retired Republican state-legislative leader, Vincent Callahan, and meeting with local Republicans along the way, and in an earlier session, Warner said, “The discussion went into some of the reasons why the folks there thought John McCain was better-suited for the presidency.”

It’s that kind of talk that gets Democrats who are working just as hard for Obama as they are for Warner nervous. A report in the Washington Post Virginia Politics blog Tuesday offered up the information that the Obama campaign has asked U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, Gov. Tim Kaine and Warner to cut radio ads for Obama to run in the walkup to the election over the next two-plus weeks. Webb has already recorded his ad, and Kaine is expected to join in as well, though according to the report it is unclear whether Warner will also participate.

It was this kind of talk that had me pressing Warner on his support for the party standard-bearer. After hearing him answer the question about who he was backing for president by saying the country is looking for somebody to get things back on the right track, I asked him point blank – “Are you hedging on this?”

“Of course I support Sen. Obama. I think he’s the right choice. And if I can do more to encourage people to vote for him, I will,” Warner said.

Doesn’t seem like he’s all that interested to me, but maybe it’s just me.

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