Senator John Warner's announcement that he will not seek a sixth term in office virtually cements Virginia's status as a 2008 battleground state.
The race to fill Sen. Warner's seat is likely to be one of the hottest in the nation. With Virginia more favorable towards Democrats than it has been in quite some time and open contests for both president and senator at the top of the ballot, the Commonwealth will surely become a focus for both parties.
On the Democratic side, attention has shifted to former governor Mark Warner, who flirted with a presidential bid last year, while on the Republican side, Rep. Tom Davis and former governor Jim Gilmore will likely both get into the race. But John Warner leaves little ill-will for the eventual Republican nominee to fend off. In a Washington Post poll in October 2006, two-thirds viewed the senior senator favorably, including 59 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of independents.
Over the course of his nearly 30 years in the Senate, John Warner faced only two serious challenges to his seat. The first came from within his own party, and the second came in 1996 from a man many believe could be his successor, Mark Warner. When the two Warners faced off, John emerged victorious by a mere five points.
The former governor would begin a campaign for Senate in the enviable position of being well-liked. In the October poll, 73 percent of Virginia voters had a favorable opinion of him. His support also crossed party lines, with 60 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of independents holding favorable opinions of him. Half said that had he continued and won his campaign for the presidency, he would have made a good president.
Mark Warner's high favorability is built on an astonishingly high approval rating earned during his term as governor. Just before the 2005 election, 80 percent of Virginia voters said they approved of the job he had done, compared to 62 percent who said the same of potential Republican candidate Jim Gilmore on the eve of the 2001 election and 66 percent of George Allen in 1997.
What's your take on the contest. Will either party's candidate be able to maintain voters' good will?