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Turning 50 Into $2 Million

Warner remained coy last night, saying only that he wants to "invest in Virginia. Just do good."

Some of his donors said they believe he will use the money to help Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) against Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) in next year's governor's race. A Kaine victory could cement Warner's political legacy.

Gov. Mark R. Warner lifts his glass for a toast during the birthday dinner, which cemented his reputation as one of Virginia's best political fundraisers. (Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

Warner also might dole out the money to House of Delegates candidates who find themselves in tough contests because they backed the tax increase during the 2004 General Assembly session. Warner likes to say he wants to nurture the emergence of the "sensible center" in Virginia politics. He could do a lot of nurturing with $2 million.

But other high-dollar donors last night said they expect Warner to use some, if not most, of that money to further his own political career, which might include a run for president in 2008.

By law, Warner could not simply dump his Virginia money into a federal campaign. And as a multimillionaire, he doesn't need the money. But he could use the cash from his political action committee to travel throughout the country before officially declaring himself a presidential candidate.

Steve Case, the co-founder of America Online, who attended last night's dinner, said Warner's fundraising success may be the result of people betting early on Warner's political future.

"I'm sure part of it is people wondering what he will do next," Case said.

In final comments to the crowd, Warner hinted at his plans as he talked about his bipartisan achievements in three years. "That's the kind of politics we need, not just in Virginia, but across this country," he said.

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