Warner: Obama Has Strong Chance of Capturing Virginia

The Democratic candidate for Virginia's U.S. Senate seat discusses his political future, and suggests what Barack Obama has to do to win Virginia in November. Video by Ed O'Keefe, Emily Freifeld/washingtonpost.com
By Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com staff writer
Tuesday, July 8, 2008; 2:06 PM

Former Virginia governor Mark Warner today reaffirmed that he wasn't interested in serving as Sen. Barack Obama's vice presidential runningmate because of family concerns, but he left the door wide open to a future national bid.

Warner stressed in an interview with washingtonpost.com's "PostTalk" interview program that if he wins Virginia's open Senate seat this fall, as he is favored to do, he is unlikely to become a lifer in that chamber. "It's hard for me to imagine I would go to the Senate and spend 30 or 35 years there," he said. "I just don't see that as my personality."

"If you do the job you are hired to do and do it well, then possibilities may present themselves," Warner said of a future presidential bid.

Although he ruled out sharing a ticket with Obama this fall, Warner expressed confidence that the Illinois senator could become the first Democrat in more than four decades to carry the Commonwealth at the presidential level.

The roadmap Warner laid out for Obama -- win major margins in northern Virginia, drive turnout in the outer suburbs of Washington and "not get smoked in the rural parts of the state" -- is a carbon copy of the strategy Warner used to win the governorship in 2001 and that he is implementing in his race this fall against former Republican governor Jim Gilmore.

Warner said he was "very pleased" that Obama had chosen Bristol -- in Virginia's far southwestern reaches -- to kick off his general election campaign. He asserted that one of the keys to competing in rural reaches long considered unfriendly to Democrats is simply showing up.

"It is overwritten that [this] region of the country won't give him a fair shot," Warner said of Obama and his potential appeal in rural America. Warner argued that Obama's message of hope was exactly what many residents of small, rural towns in Virginia and across the country are looking for. "Neither party has offered much hope for rural America in the last 30 years," he insisted.

That said, Warner also noted that Obama would do well to occasionally break with liberal Democratic party orthodoxy ¿ as he has done recently by supporting compromise domestic surveillance legislation and signaling a possible change in his Iraq war policy ¿ in order to show rural voters he is not simply a tool of national Democrats,

"Showing maybe that you don't check every box in orthodoxy actually is what people are looking for," said Warner. "At the end of the day, folks want stuff to get done."

He was careful not predict an Obama win in the Commonwealth, however, saying only that the race will be competitive. And, Warner acknowledged, "John McCain will run strong in Virginia with his strong veterans vote."

As for his own race against Gilmore, which is widely seen by political observers as a Democratic rout in the making, Warner insisted he takes nothing for granted and is "obsessed" with the contest.

Despite a wide lead in public polling, Warner pointed out that both Mary Sue Terry in the 1993 governor's race and George Allen in the 2006 Senate race looked unbeatable at this same time and wound up losing. He also noted that since 1988, no Democrat running statewide has won more than 52 percent of the vote ¿ a mark he set in his victory over former state Attorney General Mark Earley.

Warner clearly has an eye on quickly establishing himself as a bipartisan player in the Senate, however, insisting that the first goal of a new president and a new Congress should be to find a major issue on which they can agree, such as the energy crisis.

"The country needs a win," said Warner adding that politicians need to be able to tell the American people: "We've taken on this problem, we've reached some consensus and we are on a path to fixing it."

Warner, 53, a wealthy former businessman, explored a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination before announcing in late 2006 that he would not run. Warner said today that his three teenage daughters have expressed "their hope that I will not engage in national politics beyond the Senate race while they are still in high school" -- a wish he seems prepared to accede to.

Warner's daughters -- Maddie age 18, Gillian 17 and Eliza 14 -- will be out of or on their way out of high school by 2012. As for when his daughters graduate, Warner is far less definitive. "I would never rule it out," he says of future presidential bid.

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