Mark Warner Kicks Off His Bid for Senate

Democrat Mark R. Warner leads in the polls.
Democrat Mark R. Warner leads in the polls. (Charlie Neibergall - AP)
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By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 5, 2008

ABINGDON, Va., May 4 -- Democrat Mark R. Warner officially kicked off his U.S. Senate campaign Sunday night, pledging to invest in new energy sources, expand access to health care and rebuild the state's sagging infrastructure.

Six months before the November election, the popular former governor is widely considered the front-runner to replace retiring Republican John W. Warner in a race that could help further solidify Virginia's gradual shift toward becoming a more Democratic state.

Even Republicans acknowledge that Warner is considered the heavy favorite. But, they say, he could still lose.

He could make a mistake the way then-Sen. George Allen did two years ago when he lost to a virtual unknown. He could be hurt by problems in the Democratic Party nationally in the coming months. He could be dragged down by his party's presidential nominee in a state that has voted for a Republican president for more than four decades.

"It can be done," said J. Kenneth Klinge, a prominent Northern Virginia Republican. "But it's going to take some luck."

Warner, 53, began his four-day tour of the state Sunday night in southwest Virginia, where he explained why he will be a better choice than his Republican counterpart -- either former governor James S. Gilmore III or Del. Robert G. Marshall of Prince William County -- for a seat that will help determine whether Democrats keep control of the U.S. Senate.

"If there's ever a time to bring fresh thinking and our kind of Virginia results to Washington, it's now," Warner said in a 20-minute speech. "If you hire me as your next United States senator, we'll prove that even in Washington we can bring Virginia independence that will provide real results."

Warner will be joined on some of his 11 stops on the tour by the state's two top Democrats, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and U.S. Sen. James Webb, Republican supporters and Virginians helped by programs he launched while in the governor's mansion. He will appear at the Carlyle Club in Alexandria on Monday night.

The kickoff started in Abingdon, a small town nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, as recognition of the power base he built in rural Virginia during his run for governor in 2001.

More than 250 supporters greeted Warner, his wife, Lisa, and their two youngest daughters at E.B. Stanley Middle School for an early dinner of barbecue, coleslaw and pickles. A band played bluegrass music, including a song about Warner.

"He's just done so much for everyone here," said Shirley Hall, who came to the dinner with her husband, Jim, from Castlewood, 25 miles away. "He don't forget us."

Orange "Sportsmen for Warner" and handmade "Abingdon is Warner Country" signs decorated the cafeteria as Democrats, and some Republicans, enthusiastically welcomed Warner back to the town where he launched his gubernatorial campaign. Many spoke not of the Senate race but of their desire for Warner to run for president after he serves in the Senate.

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