Sen. Warner Is Weighing Run in 2008 For 6th Term

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 21, 2006

Virginia Sen. John W. Warner (R) is preparing a run for a sixth term in 2008 but said he may change his mind if he decides he's too old or too tired to wage what he expects will be a tough campaign in a state that has changed considerably since his last competitive race.

In an interview this week, Warner said he is going "through a series of careful steps" that will determine his political future, including trying to decide whether Democrat James Webb's victory over Sen. George Allen (R) last month signals a new, more Democratic era in Virginia politics. Warner also said he wants to be certain that Virginia residents are willing to vote for him given that he would be 87 at the conclusion of his next term.

"The people have been good to me," said Warner, who was first elected in 1978 and recently became the second-longest-serving senator in Virginia history. "But a lot of these people are brand-new people, and maybe they have different perspectives than those who put me in office five consecutive times. I think I want to travel around the state and listen and see what is on their minds."

Warner gave his clearest signal that he was up for another race last week when he sent a letter to incoming Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying that he would forgo seeking a spot as the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee so he could have more time to campaign. He asked to remain on the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Armed Services Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

"I have decided to devote my full time to security responsibilities in the Senate and the demands of a vigorous and challenging reelection campaign," Warner wrote.

If Warner were to change his mind and step down, the effects could have a profound effect on the state's political landscape.

For Republicans, Allen and former governor James S. Gilmore III, who is exploring a bid for president in 2008, are possible candidates, and aides to Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said he is laying the groundwork for a Senate run should Warner step aside. Some of the state's seven other GOP members of Congress could also enter the contest.

Even if Warner runs again, Democrats are likely to make a strong push for the seat after winning two consecutive governor's races and last month's Senate race. Former governor Mark R. Warner, former lieutenant governor Donald S. Beyer Jr., Del. Brian J. Moran (Arlington) and State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath) are mentioned by party leaders as possible candidates.

"After winning in 2005 and 2006, the Democrats will want to contest that seat," said Beyer, who would not say whether he is considering a run.

Warner has been in tough races before, most notably when he faced Mark Warner in 1996. His next campaign could be his toughest yet, political analysts said.

"The lesson for 2006 for the Democrats and everyone is don't assume a strong incumbent is inevitably going to win," said Mark J. Rozell, a political science professor at George Mason University.

Even so, many Democrats say their chances would be much better if John Warner does not run. In private polls this fall, his approval ratings approached 70 percent. Unlike Allen, who was hamstrung by his unyielding support for the war in Iraq and allegations of racial insensitivity, Warner has a reputation as a moderate willing to challenge President Bush.

"He would be tough for anyone to take on," said Pete Brodnitz, a Democratic pollster who works for Kaine and Webb. "What happened in George Allen's case, there was a sense he wasn't doing his job. I don't think John Warner is going to be in that position."

Still, Warner is aware that he'd be running in a Virginia different from what he's used to. A statistic he called "an interesting turnaround" stood out in his mind: In the 1996 race, he won Fairfax County by 53,000 votes. Last month, Allen lost Fairfax by 64,000 votes.

"I thought George Allen had a reasonable chance of holding this seat," said Warner, who campaigned for Allen. "The loss is something I have to work into my thinking."

Warner also acknowledged that there could be a debate in 2008 over whether he is too old to remain in office. "My 80th birthday is two months from today," Warner said on Monday. "I feel fine, I get checked out physically, but I want to be honest with the constituents of Virginia. As much as I would like to run and get reelected, is this what they really want and need?"

Warner says he doesn't want a legacy like that of former Virginia senator Carter Glass, who missed most of the votes during the last four years of his term in the 1940s because of an illness.

Nonetheless, with the nation at war and concerns about the direction of the military, Warner, the outgoing chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said his experience as a World War II veteran and as secretary of the Navy is needed in Congress.

"This has been my life, and I am genuinely and deeply concerned about the future course of military operations," Warner said.

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