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Bush Win May Help Allen, Warner

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 11, 2004; Page VA04

It's the week after. And the winner is?

Well, President Bush, of course. But, in Virginia, the results of the Nov. 2 presidential election could end up boosting the fortunes of the state's two leading political rivals, Sen. George Allen (R) and Gov. Mark R. Warner (D).

Allen, who has spent the past two years as the top campaigner for Senate Republicans, gets the credit -- and a national boost -- for orchestrating huge gains by Republicans in his chamber. The Senate, which was 51-49 before the election, now goes to 55-45, giving Allen's party firm control over the agenda.

Full coverage of the Nov. 2 elections:
RESULTS: D.C. | Maryland | Virginia

_____Live Discussions_____
Transcript: Vaughn Ververs, editor of the Hotline, discussed the 2004 election.
Washington in Red and Blue: Compare how area residents cast their votes in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

Photo Gallery: Election Day in Washington.
Video: Area voters flock to the polls.
Video: E-voting's impact on this year's election.

New Republican senators across the country now owe something to Allen, who helped them raise money as chairman of the National Senatorial Campaign Committee. If the Virginia Republican decides to run for president in 2008, as more than a few pundits expect him to, he could be the beneficiary of their support and largesse.

Bush's victory also ensures that if Allen runs in the next presidential election, he won't be running against an incumbent. A Democratic win this year might have persuaded Allen to wait until 2012.

But state Republicans and Allen backers say the first-term senator must be careful not to get ahead of himself. He is up for reelection in 2006 and has spent little time in the state recently as he traveled across the country on behalf of his colleagues.

Although last week's wide margin for Bush in Virginia should be reassuring to Allen, his advisers say the senator will spend much more time here in 2005. He is likely to embark on another of his "listening tours," in which he travels across the state, attempting to connect one-on-one with potential voters.

For Warner, the elections were a disappointment. In the end, however, they could serve him well.

As national Democrats cast about for answers to why they lost, many are focused on the South, where Bush swept, and on rural voters, who by and large voted Republican even in blue states across the country.

In the eyes of some, Warner could be the answer to that very significant problem.

Since Election Day, Warner has been mentioned by television pundits, newspaper analysts, party officials, centrist organizations and other governors as one of a handful of politicians who could help Democrats reconnect with the southern, rural voters who have eluded them. Several have noted that the only recent Democrats to win the presidency -- Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton -- were centrists from southern states.

Warner won in 2001 by distancing himself from his party's stands on social and cultural issues such as guns, abortion, capital punishment and gay marriage. Those are the very issues that many believe drove rural voters to the polls, helping Bush win the election. In office, Warner has maintained centrist positions. He has never blocked an execution, he has signed abortion and gun bills, and he expressed support for state laws that bar recognition of gay marriages.

Warner has studiously avoided talking about his future, even though he is nearing the end of his term as governor of Virginia, which bars its chief executive from serving consecutive terms. He says only that he is focused entirely on his last year in office.

Warner has positioned himself well. He will spend the next year as chairman of the National Governors Association, a high-visibility perch from which he can travel the country, appearing with governors from both parties.

Warner still has challenges, not the least of which is the big tax increase he helped push through in Virginia this year. Were he to emerge as a leading Democratic contender in 2008, there would likely be no shortage of national anti-tax figures who would seek to portray him as a tax-and-spend liberal.

Warner also needs to find something to do after he leaves office in January 2006. Some advisers think he might become the chief executive of a company again, burnishing his business credentials. Others speculate that he could be a natural choice to head the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, a group that Clinton helped start.

Then there's Allen. Could Warner decide to challenge him for the Senate in 2006? Could the two meet in four years as their parties' nominees for president?

Only time, and a lot of political maneuvering, will tell.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company