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Warner Comes Out Swinging for Jefferson-Jackson Day

U.S. Senate hopeful Mark Warner, right, appeared Saturday with Democratic Party heavyweights Gov. Timothy Kaine, left, and Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder. Warner has raised $1 million a month since September.
U.S. Senate hopeful Mark Warner, right, appeared Saturday with Democratic Party heavyweights Gov. Timothy Kaine, left, and Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder. Warner has raised $1 million a month since September. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
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By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2008

RICHMOND At the Virginia Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner Saturday, you would have never known that most pundits think former governor Mark R. Warner (D) will easily win election to the U.S. Senate this fall.

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Warner's campaign acted as if he were the underdog. Shortly after dawn, Warner's volunteers were plastering the Stuart C. Siegel Center at Virginia Commonwealth University with hundreds of "Warner for Senate" signs.

Later, Warner canvassers fanned out to gather the names and addresses of people walking into the annual Democratic fundraiser. The names will be added to Warner's already massive database of potential supporters who can be called upon to volunteer or donate.

Warner's campaign choreographed the candidate's arrival. When his car pulled up outside, he was greeted by about two dozen volunteers chanting "Warner, Warner" as a drum corps played.

Although he was overshadowed by presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), both of whom spoke, Warner clearly relished the attention.

Once inside, during a break between the speeches, Warner made a calculated walk from the floor of the Siegel Center, where the big donors ate, up to the bleachers where the ordinary folks sat to hear Sens. Obama and Clinton. He took the aisle next to where the press corps was sitting, ensuring maximum exposure.

The Warner campaign's visibility underscored how the candidate is girding for a competitive fight this fall with Del. Robert G. Marshall (Prince William) or former governor James S. Gilmore III, who are vying for the Republican nomination.

Warner has a big lead in early polls, but he is taking nothing for granted. He has raked in an average of $1 million a month since entering the race in September. And he is building a top-shelf campaign staff, snatching Democratic talent from across the state.

If Gilmore gets the GOP nomination, he will be anything but a pushover. He is already trying to poke holes in Warner's record as governor.

Last week, Gilmore sent out a statement about Warner's ties to the debate over whether the payday loan industry should be reformed.

In 2002, Warner signed the Payday Loan Act, which allowed lenders to set up shop in Virginia without being bound by a 36 percent cap on interest rates.

Critics, who are pushing for changes this year, say the law has been a failure because thousands of Virginians are caught in a cycle of debt from which they cannot escape.


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