Who will Dems field to challenge Allen in ’06?

Story by Chris Graham

Gov. Mark Warner is not going to seek the Virginia Democratic Party nomination to run for the United States Senate in 2006.

The question now turns to … who will seek the Dem nod in ’06?

“Gov. Warner, like many other Virginia Democrats, doesn’t want to see Sen. Allen given a free ride in 2006, if only because he’s being talked about as a presidential contender in 2008,” University of Virginia Center for Politics analyst Matt Smyth said.

“They want to make him work next year to be able to get to 2008. They want to make him have to talk about the issues, talk about his record, and senators have extensive voting records, and at least expend something in the way of effort in 2006,” Smyth told The Augusta Free Press.

That there is a Democrat other than Warner who can make Allen sweat – Warner was running ahead of Allen in the early polling in the hypothetical head-to-head matchup featuring the two – is for now a figment of party members’ imaginations. Former congressman L.F. Payne and former two-time lieutenant governor Don Beyer have both said that they have no interest in running against Allen next year.

The Allen campaign, for its part, is not sitting back and taking things easy in light of this news.

“The announcement doesn’t have any effect on what we’re doing. Sen. Allen is focused on his re-election campaign and is preparing to run against whomever the Democrats nominate,” campaign manager Jason Miller told the AFP.

“The chairman of the state Democratic Party and Gov. Warner himself have indicated that they plan to recruit a strong candidate to take on Sen. Allen next year. As far as we’re concerned, we have to be prepared to take on a self-financed multimillionaire candidate in 2006,” Miller said.

The chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party himself – former Roanoke delegate Dick Cranwell – is being talked about as a possible challenger for Allen next fall.

Another possibility being discussed in the punditry and in the blogs is Doug Wilder – the former governor and current Richmond mayor who briefly ran for the Senate in 1994 when the seat now held by Allen was held by Chuck Robb.

“Doug Wilder seems very much engaged in his current job as mayor of Richmond. But a Senate race, with the national attention that goes with it, would be tempting to any politician, and with Wilder’s track record, and his level of support across the state, you couldn’t rule him out until he does so himself,” Smyth said.

“If you’re a Democratic consultant, you want to find somebody with name recognition who can secure the Democratic base and also reach out to independent voters and crossover Republicans,” Smyth said.

“The Democrats don’t just want to run somebody for the sake of running somebody. They want to find a viable candidate who can take on an incumbent with a shot at winning,” Smyth said.

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