Outside of Va., Warner's National Ambitions Shine

Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), shown in March, has not announced any plans for after his term ends in January.
Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), shown in March, has not announced any plans for after his term ends in January. (By Andrew Shurtleff -- The Daily Progress)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 11, 2005

PHOENIX -- More than 2,000 miles from home, one hardly needs to be coy about intentions.

So Virginia's Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner wasn't.

In front of 400 Arizona Democrats on Saturday night, Warner dropped his familiar, "I'm just focused on being the best governor I can be" routine. That's an applause line in Virginia, where Warner will be chief executive for a few more months.

Instead, Warner gave a speech to the Arizona Heritage Dinner that focused on where national Democrats need to go -- and what kind of person they need to pick -- if they want to recapture the White House and the Congress from Republicans.

"Americans want somebody who is going to be straight with them even if telling the truth may not be what they want to hear," Warner said as he called for bipartisan efforts to confront the deficit, Medicaid spending, health insurance and education. "This country is ready for a party and leaders to reclaim the sensible center. My fellow Democrats, it ought to be us."

Warner delivered the campaign-style message haltingly, having practiced it only a handful of times. But it was welcomed by the audience of activists. Like Virginia, Arizona is a solidly Republican state with a Democratic governor. Its legislature is firmly controlled by the GOP, and eight of its 10 members of Congress are Republicans. President Bush won the state last year by 11 points.

Warner is "very impressive. He's got all the right stuff," said Judy Kennedy, the chairwoman of the Maricopa County Democratic Party.

Kennedy said she attended the Democratic dinner because she thinks Warner might run for president in 2008. Last year's dinner featured Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), another possible contender and one who Kennedy said was more polished.

"He's still a diamond in the rough when it comes to presidential politics," Kennedy said after listening to Warner's 35-minute speech. "We loved Hillary. But I think we're realists. I don't know whether she could win the election."

Some don't think Warner could win either. Colin McCracken, the communications director for the Arizona Republican Party, said Warner is a virtual unknown in Arizona. Were he to campaign here, McCracken predicted, Warner would be treated "like an East Coast liberal trying to fit into a western red state."

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) countered that Warner would fit in just fine. She hosted Virginia's governor in smaller meetings with donors, activists, Indian tribal leaders and others before the speech.

"Virginia is not Massachusetts," she said. "He managed that state to be the best-managed in the nation. The Republicans don't have anyone with that kind of record."

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