By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 11, 2005
RICHMOND, Nov. 10 -- While working feverishly to help elect Timothy M. Kaine as his successor, Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) has been assembling a team to prepare for his own political future, which supporters said is likely to include a bid for the presidency in 2008.
Warner is preparing to hold a final fundraiser as governor at the Ritz Carlton in Tysons Corner next month, but next week he will formally launch his federal political action committee and unveil its Web site, and make his first political trip to New Hampshire, site of the nation's first presidential primary. There, he will host a luncheon for Democratic activists.
Former lieutenant governor Donald S. Beyer, a longtime friend who was treasurer for Howard Dean's presidential bid, has agreed to lead Warner's fundraising.
"I'm definitely on board," Beyer said in an interview. "I genuinely believe he is the Democrats' best shot at winning in 2008."
Warner's supporters acknowledge that will be tough. He has no foreign policy experience, he is a one-term governor, and he faces a slew of other candidates, possibly including former first lady Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.). But Kaine's victory over Republican Jerry W. Kilgore has boosted Warner's profile. He appeared on MSNBC's "Hardball" on Wednesday and is scheduled to appear on CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday.
In an interview, Warner insisted that he is "focused on the job" of being governor. During the next two months, he said, he will offer proposals on increasing research and development, expansion of the state's Healthy Virginians program, and an initiative on early childhood education.
"I think Virginia Democrats are showing how we govern," he said.
Aides say he is spending most of his time on state business, including preparing his final budget. But his political activity has increased as the end of his term draws near, they said.
Warner has hired fundraisers to work in several cities. He has assembled a group of longtime friends and advisers who include a pollster, a media specialist, a direct-mail guru and a policy specialist. His PAC, called Forward Together, has 10 people on its payroll, including a Web site blogger and a specialist in Internet fundraising.
But supporters said the clearest indication that Warner is focused on his future in politics was a recent briefing his advisers provided to about 80 Democrats and potential investors from across the country, followed by a dinner at his Alexandria home.
On Oct. 28, 10 days before the election, his senior advisers gathered at the Chart House restaurant in Alexandria to brief a larger-than-expected group on how Warner plans to take his success across the country.
Many of the 80 people had pledged to help raise between $50,000 and $250,000 each for Warner's PAC. Others, such as former Democratic National Committee chairman Don Fowler, are advising Warner and introducing him to Democrats in other states.
Several of those who attended said Warner did not explicitly say he is running for president. But they said the message could not have been clearer.
"He did allude to the fact that he's considering doing something else. That's a kind of code word," Fowler said from South Carolina. "I don't think anyone doubted what he was talking about."
Former Virginia congressman L.F. Payne, who chaired Warner's 2001 campaign for governor, said, "Those of us who were there were pretty excited about the governor's prospects in the future. I think a lot of people will conclude that he will be a very good candidate."
Nicholas D. Perrins, Warner's money manager and confidant, began the briefing, along with two of Warner's close friends, business executives Russ Ramsey and Nigel Morris. For an hour and a half, Warner's team described the national political environment and how Warner fits into it.
Payne called it "a bit of an update in terms of the current environment in Washington and talking a good bit about the governor and how well he's done."
According to several participants, media consultant Jim Margolis discussed the Democrats' 2004 loss to President Bush; pollster Fred Yang gave a presentation, and direct mail consultant Hal Malchow discussed how Warner's popularity was helping Kaine and the state's Democratic candidates.
Malchow said he has not formally discussed being part of a presidential campaign with Warner, but he called the Virginia governor "a close friend" and said he assumes he would be part of a campaign if it happens.
"There's a lot more politics aimed at the base," Malchow said. "You have a polarized electorate, and both sides are playing to that. Mark Warner has done just the opposite. It would certainly be attractive on the national stage."
After the briefing, the entire group drove to Warner's Alexandria home for a buffet dinner that included spinach salad with goat cheese, sliced filet of beef, and fish.
Several dinner guests said Warner gave a brief speech from the staircase of his home, which was interrupted several times by his children and their friends running up and down.
"It was very low key. His speech was about as much about Tim Kaine as his own [future]," Fowler said. "There was nobody at that dinner or the session before that had any doubt. Nobody there is naive."