Warner Sets Sights on Economy, Energy Policy

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 6, 2008

A day after he received more votes than any politician in state history, Virginia's senator-elect, Democrat Mark R. Warner, pledged yesterday to help jump-start the economy and develop a new national energy policy.

Relaxed and casually dressed, Warner spent the day planning his two-month transition, which will include hiring staff and attending "senator school" to learn how to serve in Congress. At his campaign office in Alexandria, he thanked his volunteers and called the longtime politician he will replace, Sen. John W. Warner (R), and some of his newly elected colleagues. A handwritten sign greeted visitors: "Welcome to Sen.-elect Warner's office."

"People want to see things get done," he said at a news conference. "You can make the job what you choose."

Warner, 53, defeated Republican James S. Gilmore III, 59, by 30 points Tuesday, giving the state two Democratic senators for the first time in almost four decades. Warner will join Sen. James Webb, elected in 2006, in representing Virginia.

Warner won 128 of Virginia's 134 localities. Thirty percent of self-described conservatives voted for him, as did a quarter of Republicans, according to exit polls.

"I'm very grateful for our win yesterday, particularly that it was in every region of Virginia," he said.

Warner would not say which Senate committees he wants to serve on or discuss specific policy issues he wants to tackle. He was characteristically vague, saying only that he hoped to shape policy and fight for the state. "There's time for that," he joked with reporters. "I don't want to give away all the good stuff."

Warner mentioned four areas of national concern that he would like to address: the economy, energy, boosting the business climate and a federal spending freeze.

U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D), who was easily reelected Tuesday, said he hopes Warner will concentrate on public transit, which Moran calls "the engine driving Virginia's economy," as well as health care and early childhood education, even if some might call the latter a "liberal" issue.

Warner, who left the governor's office in 2006 with record-high approval ratings, describes himself as a bipartisan leader who will go to Washington to form a group of "radical centrists" to solve problems.

But Virginia Republicans said they worry that he will lose sight of his promises while working with a Democratic White House and Congress.

"I hope that Governor Warner will remain true to the promises of his campaign and be an independent voice in Washington and not simply a rubber stamp for the radical agenda of the Senate's liberal leadership," said Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), one of the state's two elected Republicans in office statewide.

Jim Hyland, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee, said Warner should stick to pressing issues, such as the economy and energy. "Let's hope he's a voice of moderation in a caucus that may want to be very liberal," Hyland said.

Warner and Webb, who live in Northern Virginia, have different personalities and interests. Warner, an outgoing former businessman, is interested in domestic issues. Webb, a Vietnam veteran who doesn't enjoy retail politics, has a passion for foreign affairs.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) said Webb and Warner will probably focus on different agendas important to Virginians. "They both play to their strengths," he said.

"Jim Webb is a master of issues dealing with defense and veterans, and we need someone from Virginia who has that expertise," Kaine said. "Mark's expertise, I really think, is dealing with the new economy and the issues of fiscal responsibility, and the federal government has a sizeable budget challenge."

Webb agreed with Kaine's assessment of Warner. "Mark Warner's executive experience, business know-how and problem-solving approach to issues will be a great addition to the Senate," he said. "I'm looking forward to working closely with him on a wide variety of concerns."

Warner will be sworn in when the 111th Congress convenes in January. His annual salary will be $165,200.

Staff writer Tim Craig contributed to this report.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company