Warner Prepares to Take On National Role

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 11, 2005

RICHMOND, June 10 -- Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) is forming a federal political action committee and has hired a former top aide to then-Vice President Al Gore to advise him on national politics, the governor's top political aide in Virginia said.

The new PAC, which has not been named, will allow Warner to begin raising money for a possible run at the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 while he finishes his term in Virginia. The PAC will be announced formally in July or August, said Mary A. "Mame" Reiley, director of Warner's One Virginia PAC.

Reiley said Warner, a multimillionaire who is limited to one term as governor, has hired Monica Dixon, Gore'sormer deputy chief of staff, to be the federal PAC's first part-time consultant. She said Dixon will help set up meetings between Warner and Democrats across the country as he makes the transition from governor to private citizen.

"She's coming on board as an adviser to him on the national arena," Reiley said of Dixon. "She brings a wealth of national experience. We're delighted that she's coming aboard."

Dixon, who is vacationing in California, said she is "excited to be joining the governor's team."

Warner had no national profile for the first three years of his administration as he struggled initially with soaring deficits and later spent six months battling with lawmakers over what he termed tax reform. In 2004, the Republican-controlled legislature approved a $1.5 billion tax increase for the state's two-year budget over the objections of Virginia's top GOP leadership. The state later was declared the best-managed in the nation by Governing Magazine.

The tax victory -- and Sen. John F. Kerry's loss in states such as Virginia in the presidential race -- helped propel Warner to national prominence. He is often mentioned along with Sens. Kerry (Mass.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), former senator John Edwards (N.C.) and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico as possible Democratic contenders.

"Mark is seen as one of the most thoughtful, promising leaders we have in the party," said Simon Rosenberg, head of the New Democrat Network, a centrist group.

For the past year, Warner has been chairman of the National Governors Association, a position that gives him the freedom to travel the country.

Last week, he went to Iowa to prepare for the association's annual meeting in July and make the rounds of the state's top Democrats. In Iowa, Warner criticized Kerry for failing to appeal to moderates, according to the Associated Press. "I can't tell you where he ever broke with anything in Democratic orthodoxy," the AP quoted Warner as saying.

Warner would face significant disadvantages in a Democratic primary: He is little-known nationally, he is a centrist in a party where liberals dominate primaries, and much of the party establishment is lining up behind Clinton.

But Warner has qualities that could make him attractive in a general election. In recent history, governors have been far more successful than legislators in presidential races, in part because they do not have lengthy voting records that opponents can distort. And Warner has proved popular in a conservative Republican state, territory that Democrats must win if they are to regain the White House.

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