For Warner's Supporters It's a No-Win Situation

Mark Warner announcing in Richmond that he wouldn't be running for president. After that, he still had to go to Iowa.
Mark Warner announcing in Richmond that he wouldn't be running for president. After that, he still had to go to Iowa. (By Bob Brown -- Richmond Times-dispatch Via Associated Press)
By Libby Copeland
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 13, 2006

Here's the funny thing: The day Mark Warner announced he wasn't going to run for president after all, he went to Iowa.

"Iowa." Politicians regard it with the same glassy-eyed hopefulness with which the conquistadors must have imagined El Dorado. Except yesterday, by the time Warner left Virginia to attend a previously scheduled fundraiser for Democratic state candidates, all the air had pfffed out of his balloon, and -- well, Warner's spokeswoman, Ellen Qualls, says it best:

"We just shoved the governor onto a plane to fly off ignominiously to Iowa."

Qualls is holed up in a suite at Richmond's Jefferson Hotel after a news conference. She says there's a bloody mary next to her but she's not going to drink it till she returns all the phone calls she's gotten about the big news. It may take a while.

Put aside the disappointed Warner staffers for a moment. Itinerant political foot soldiers are nothing new; that's the way of Washington. What about the stunned supporters and their wilting expectations? But he raised so much money! He had such good buzz! What about the guy who's spent the past two years operating a Web site to draft Warner to run? What about Jon Berkon at Harvard Law, who's been organizing pro-Warner meet-ups, and whose mom called him this morning? ("She was like, 'I have some bad news.' ")

What about George Appleby?

"I've been in these campaign wakes before and I don't like them," says Appleby, a litigator in Des Moines who decided about a year ago that Warner was his candidate. "I was around when Gary Hart got out . . . and it's an enduringly painful memory."

In fact, Appleby was around when a lot of Democratic candidates went down. He supported Morris Udall in '76, Ted Kennedy in '80, and then, after Hart, the following losers: Bruce Babbitt, Bob Kerrey and Bill Bradley. He has, as he says, an "unerring" instinct "for picking the good guy who's going to lose." Except when he picks the guy who's going to quit. Appleby's friends tease him that he carries a curse.

"I'm the bellwether," Appleby says. "Where I go, the country goes elsewhere."

Why, just yesterday, Eddie Ratliff, the fellow who runs the Draft Mark Warner for President PAC, which isn't connected to the campaign, put in a tentative order for 5,000 more Warner buttons. Then, Ratliff was up all night researching the legal ramifications of opening a campaign office in Iowa. This morning, he saw CNN.

He canceled the campaign buttons.

What will he do now?

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