Away Game

Let the campaigning begin? Virginia Gov. Mark Warner presses the flesh Friday at a Democratic Party luncheon in Manchester, N.H.
Let the campaigning begin? Virginia Gov. Mark Warner presses the flesh Friday at a Democratic Party luncheon in Manchester, N.H. (By Jim Cole -- Associated Press)

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By Mark Leibovich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 21, 2005

MANCHESTER, N.H.

Gov. Mark Warner surges into New Hampshire, beaming with red state credibility and teeth like mah-jongg tiles.

"Wow, what great energy," he says amid a standing ovation from a luncheon of Democratic activists. He is trailed by 10 reporters and cameramen, a Big Deal entourage, and emits the radiance of a prospective candidate packing considerable '08 momentum.

In '05.

In the Granite State's perennial presidential calendar, the outgoing Virginia governor has become his party's heat magnet since his protege Tim Kaine was elected to succeed him two weeks ago. Political smarties see Kaine's win as a repudiation of President Bush and a boost to Warner's presidential ambitions and -- well, let's not get ahead of ourselves here.

Or let's: For there is no dreamier time to be a presidential hopeful in New Hampshire than 27 months before primary day. You are merely a "potential" candidate, subsisting on cold chicken and hot possibilities. The foliage is bright, the sun glows warm and there are no meaningful polls or fundraising benchmarks to yank a would-be Mount Rushmore subject back to the frozen earth.

"If I get this kind of reception for lunch, I'm gonna come back for dinner," Warner vows.

Alas, he's long gone for dinner, back in Richmond, "trying to do the best job I can in my time left as governor." That would be governor of Virginia, where Warner, 50, is barred by law from seeking a second four-year term and thus is, he keeps saying, "out of a job in 60 days."

But few doubt that Warner will return. Or begrudge him this excursion for breakfast with New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, or a discussion on high school dropout prevention afterward (in Nashua) or a chicken luncheon after that (in Manchester).

Friday was Warner's first appearance in New Hampshire as a Presidential Maybe. He followed seven Democrats and nine Republicans who have visited the state this year, some multiple times, according to figures tallied by James Pindell of PoliticsNH.com.

Officially, Warner says he's undecided about whether he'll run for president in 2008. He speaks in the code preferred by noncommittal candidates who -- like himself -- have also traveled to Iowa, established a national political action committee and spoken at multiple Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners across the country.

"I want to be part of the debate" and "help shape the Democratic Party's agenda," says Warner, who is sitting in the back seat of his campaign van -- or whatever one calls a vehicle that squires around a politician who wants "to be part of the debate" and "help shape the Democratic Party's agenda."


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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