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Will Warner Put
Virginia in Play?

Former Virginia governor Mark R. Warner's decision to run for the U.S. Senate from Virginia next year puts the Old Dominion in play as a presidential battleground for the first time in many decades.

No Democratic presidential candidate has won Virginia's 13 electoral votes since Lyndon Johnson captured the state in 1964. In recent campaigns, it's been virtually ignored by both parties, assumed to be a Republican lock.

That assumption has been changing slowly (recent Post polling showed some of the changes in the state's political profile), in part because of recent victories by statewide Democratic candidates. Warner's decision to run in a presidential year will almost certainly prompt a contentious battle, fueled by millions of dollars on each side.

Warner, a wealthy former tech executive who has shown no reluctance to pump millions of his own money into campaigns, will likely finance a huge get-out-the-vote operation that will benefit local candidates and his party's presidential nominee.

In his 2001 gubernatorial race, Warner's team helped set up a "coordinated campaign" to mine for Democratic votes throughout the state. The head of that effort, Mike Henry, is now the deputy campaign manager for New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. If she becomes the nominee, Henry would almost certainly argue for a strong push in Virginia.

But even if Illinois Sen. Barack Obama becomes the Democratic nominee, Virginia is likely to be high on the list of Democratic targets. Virginia's Democratic governor, Tim Kaine, endorsed Obama early and is sure to campaign hard to deliver the state next year.

For Republicans, an all-out push by Democrats to take Virginia would be a slap in the face -- and a threat to the Southern strategy that has helped them win for years. National Republicans wouldn't give up the Old Dominion without a fight.

If Virginia Rep. Thomas M. Davis is the Republican nominee to run against Warner, his campaign will wage a fierce battle for Northern Virginia, where he has lived for years. And Davis' ties to Washington money (he led the National Republican Campaign Committee for two years) will provide the cash.

Another Republican, former governor James S. Gilmore III, is a tax-cutting favorite of conservatives. If he becomes the Virginia Senate nominee, he will likely get the help of right-leaning independent organizations to defeat Warner. That could help fuel support for the Republican presidential nominee.

The big winners could be the television stations in Virginia, which typically are not the recipients of presidential campaign spending. A presidential battle for Virginia would mean a cash bonanza for stations, especially in the expensive Washington D.C. media market.

--Michael D. Shear

By Post Editor  |  September 13, 2007; 11:35 AM ET
 
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Comments

"Another Republican, former governor James S. Gilmore III, is a tax-cutting favorite of conservatives. If he becomes the Virginia Senate nominee, he will likely get the help of right-leaning independent organizations to defeat Warner."

It will be a tall order indeed and Gilmore will have quite a lot of ground to cover based on recent polling:

http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/virginia_senate

And if neither Gilmore nor Davis begin closing the gap in another six months, they will be in very serious trouble.

Posted by: gchraj | September 13, 2007 1:28 PM | Report abuse

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