As John Kerry ponders running mates, he should take a close look at Virginia's Mark R. Warner. True, the Old Dominion has become so Republican that even the popular governor would have difficulty wrestling the state into the Democratic column as the Johnson-Humphrey ticket last did in 1964. Yet who believed that Warner could cajole a GOP-dominated General Assembly into voting for tax reform and increased spending on education?

Apart from forcing Republicans to work up a lather to carry Virginia, Warner's presence on the Democratic ticket would strengthen the Democrats as much as House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), Sen. Bob Graham (Fla.), retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark and others on the pundits' short lists.

For starters, Warner is not only a successful businessman, he is a man of the 21st century. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he made his fortune in cellular communications, and he understands the opportunities and limitations associated with cutting-edge technology. Wouldn't it be great to have a top official in Washington who knew that "HotJava" was an Internet browser not something to sip?

While highly esteemed among Northern Virginia's high-tech executives, Warner also has used his know-how to give a boost to economically depressed Southwest Virginia, which he visited 32 times during his 2001 run for the statehouse.

Three years before his election he launched Southwest One Ltd., a venture capital fund that seeded technology start-ups in that region. In a move to bridge the "digital divide," Warner has vigorously supported the Lonesome Pine Regional Business and Technology Park in rural Wise County.

The governor's concern for Appalachia would be a big plus for Democrats in West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas -- nearby states that opted for George Bush over Al Gore in the 2000 election. Warner also might be an effective campaigner among the "Dixie Democrats" who abound in southern Illinois and Indiana, the latter the state in which he was born in 1954.

The savvy that Warner displayed in sponsoring a NASCAR team, playing down gun control and embracing bluegrass music demonstrates his ability to connect with older white males too -- a constituency that has lurched toward the GOP recently, turning a number of traditionally blue states into red splotches on electoral college maps.

At the same time, young voters respond to the passion, ideas, ability to set priorities and record of accomplishments that Warner articulates even as he comes off as an approachable guy.

Above all, the Democrats have a short bench and need to plan ahead. Should Kerry win the presidency, he would occupy the White House for four or eight years. Edwards still would be in top form when Kerry stepped down, but Gephardt, Richardson, Graham and Clark would be past their primes.

With Warner, though, the Democrats would have a modern man in his mid-fifties ready to lead the nation in the same innovative, sure-handed way that he has managed the commonwealth's affairs.

-- George W. Grayson

a former Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates, teaches government

at the College of William & Mary.

gwgray@wm.edu