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Democrats Weigh Warner vs. Allen

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 14, 2005; Page VA04

Will he or won't he?

Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) continues to keep everyone guessing about whether he will challenge Virginia's junior senator, George Allen (R), to a political duel next year that could prove intense.

The betting for months has been that Warner will avoid the obvious political risks inherent in taking on a popular senator. To do so would mean putting his presidential ambitions on the back burner to wage a fight that many think could be political suicide.

But recent internal Democratic polls have given Warner the edge in a head-to-head contest with Allen, and national Democrats see Warner as their best shot at a surprise upset in the Senate. Aides say Warner has not decided.

Warner would not have a problem raising the $20 million or more it might take. He has been a prodigious fundraiser as governor, and he can always write himself a check if he needs one.

Moreover, beating Allen would give him an almost mythic quality in Virginia politics.

Allen is not taking any chances. In a recent fundraising letter, Allen used the prospect of a Warner challenge to urge contributions from supporters.

"Mark Warner would be a very formidable opponent, and we have to start preparing now in case the national Democrats are indeed successful in drafting him to run against me," Allen said in the letter.

Allen, who served as the Senate's chief money man for two years, is an accomplished fundraiser. In the letter, he stressed the difficulty of running against Warner and his personal fortune.

"The bottom line: My 2006 reelection effort could be the most costly campaign in Virginia's history," Allen wrote. "My first election to the U.S. Senate cost nearly $10 million. To beat Mark Warner or another self-financing multimillionaire, I will have to raise twice that amount, perhaps $20 million."

Allen's advisers have said the polls indicating Warner's strength are misleading. Governors often leave with high approval ratings that evaporate once they are no longer in office. They also say that Allen's numbers will increase once he begins campaigning across the state again.

Is Warner going to give in to the pressure and run?

His advisers say he's not afraid to lose to Allen, and thinks he might even win. But running against Allen would be, in poker terms, an all-in bet that could end a promising political career if he loses.

There are other options for Warner. The failed presidential bid of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) last year has some in the national Democratic Party searching for a moderate, southern governor to run for president. Last month, C-SPAN featured Warner's speech to Atlanta Democrats in its "Road to the White House, 2008."

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