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Should Warner Regret Not Going For The White House?

Mark Warner isn't running against Barack Obama, but he's beating his fellow Democrat by a stunning 25 or so points. The former governor is trouncing his Republican opponent for the U.S. Senate, Jim Gilmore, by upward of 30 points in recent polls. Obama, in contrast, holds a slim lead over John McCain in most Virginia polls.

Warner bounds around the state on what looks like a victory lap, diving across enemy lines to embrace Republican ideas, lamenting the failure of the presidential candidates to get specific about our dire economic situation. Obama plays it cautious, having seemingly tucked away for safekeeping the eagerness to break the mold that got him this close to the White House.

Obviously, a Senate candidate riding a comfortable lead feels more freedom to say what's on his mind than a presidential hopeful locked in a tight race. But that's the point, isn't it? The bland packaging and petty sniping of presidential politics only exacerbate voter cynicism and frustration.

When Warner says that a President Obama's first move should be to demonstrate that he can and will cut way back on spending, Virginia audiences love the idea of a politician reaching into the other team's toolbox. When he talks about collecting a dozen or so senators in a "bipartisan coalition of radical centrists" who would solicit ideas from both parties and break away from the just-say-no polarization symbolized by the cable TV shoutfests, heads nod.

And when he explains how we got into this mess -- being careful to assess blame on Republicans, Democrats, business leaders and ordinary people alike -- crowds break into murmured wondering about why McCain and Obama don't talk like this.

Part of this cross-party appeal is classic Warner. Even in fast-changing Virginia, a Democrat is a fool if he doesn't try to demonstrate an affinity for some traditionally Republican values.

But this time around, Warner doesn't need to prove himself as a NASCAR-loving, pro-gun kind of Democrat. This is the first Virginia campaign in many years in which guns, gays, marriage, the death penalty and illegal immigration aren't playing the role of distracters-in-chief. We've finally learned what it takes to knock the state's Republicans off their game of deploying hot-button social issues to steer attention from the real work of government: a cratering economy and an unpopular war.

It's not that Warner is running against Obama; he always mentions his support for his party's presidential candidate. Yet he manages to find ways to tell potential McCain-Warner voters that that's okay. Heck, even Warner's press secretary, Emily Kryder, drives a car with McCain and Warner stickers on the back. (It's her fiance who's for McCain, she hastens to explain. She's a loyal Democrat.)

Over a burger and shake at Kline's Freeze in Manassas Park, Warner says he'd like to see Obama get more granular: "You have to translate the macro to very specific things, like when I ran for governor and talked about career and technical education, or when President Clinton talked about national service."

Warner believes that voters want clear evidence that candidates really would push toward the center. "The John McCain of 2000 reflected that, unlike the McCain of this year," he says. "The original attraction people felt to Senator Obama was not just his energy and intellect but that he was talking about that common ground we all have."

Never much of an orator, Warner has found a way to stir audiences, saying that what's been most disappointing about the Bush administration is not the botched war or reckless management of the economy but that the president "hasn't trusted our strongest asset, the character and resolve of the American people. If, after 9/11, the president had said, 'We're going to get off foreign oil in five years,' people would have said, 'Where do I sign up?' If, after Katrina, the president had said, 'We must rebuild American infrastructure,' people would have said, 'How do I do my part?' "

Again, audiences ask why McCain and Obama don't say such things.

"Too much is being defined by the loudest voices on either end," Warner says. "For example, there's something I would like to hear both Obama and McCain talk about more. It's not sexy, but we need a plan to rebuild our infrastructure -- roads, rail, broadband."

Does Warner regret having pulled out of the presidential race so early? He smiles, starts to say something, then waves himself off.

"No," he says, and then he can't contain himself, and the smile takes over his face, and he laughs and gets up from the table. "Gotta go."

"Potomac Confidential" returns next Thursday at noon, its regular time, at

By Marc Fisher |  October 9, 2008; 9:44 AM ET
Previous: Dupont Underground, This Time With Art, Not Burgers | Next: Who Are All Those McCain-Warner Voters?


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Mark Warner shouldn't regret pulling out -- Obama and Hillary would have won, either way.

What he should regret is not staying in long enough to be a credible VP pick...or he should regret not throwing his hat into the VP ring at all.

Obama/Warner would be pushing 400 EVs right now.

Could you imagine a VP debate between the Zero and Mark Warner?

Posted by: Losercuda | October 9, 2008 10:43 AM

Mark Warner may be celebrating too soon. Some of those social issues are coming home to roost in these last last of the campaign. Also his lies about the budget and the fact the CATA institute gave him a rating of "D" as Governor is telling. He has been using the story for a left leaning Pew paper saying Virginia was the best managed state in the union. I'd like someone to ask Tim Kaine about that. Mark Warner raised taxes 1.4 billion dollars and spent that money and now the state still doesn't have enough and Kaine is stuck with that "budget shortfall". Hmmm sounds like Mark Warner who never ran a successful business before he got a government handout of cellphone spectrum luck may just be running out.

Posted by: Fred | October 9, 2008 11:21 AM

John McCain, Definition

1: an unbranded range animal ; especially : a motherless calf 2: an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party


Judas Horse
1: A domestic horse which has been trained to lead wild horses into a trap.

Posted by: dMiner | October 9, 2008 11:34 AM

John McCain, Definition

1: an unbranded range animal ; especially : a motherless calf2: an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party


Judas Horse
1: A domestic horse which has been trained to lead wild horses into a trap.

Posted by: Dave Miner | October 9, 2008 11:35 AM

Excuse me, but I think the Democratic leadership made it pretty obvious that their only choice was Obama.

It would have been nice to have had a choice in the who the democratic candidate would be, oh well.

Maybe next time.

Posted by: SGSeattle | October 9, 2008 12:07 PM

Give one example of where Mark Warner was substantively pro-gun. Not some vague line in a speech pandering to pro-gun people but an example of leadership on enacting pro-gun legislation or discouraging further encroachments.

Gilmores tax repeal wasn't the cause of VA budget woes; it was the increased Warner spending and a downbeat economy at the time.

Posted by: Stick | October 9, 2008 12:25 PM

Mark Warner may be a legend in Virginia, but he has a long way to go on the national scene. I thought his Convention Speech was horrible. I was very disappointed and thrilled he was not on the ticket. If he's so great, then why isn't Virginia overwhelmingly leaning toward Obama.

Posted by: Jack Nathan | October 9, 2008 1:55 PM

Marc - Does it matter? Seriously, he's not running for the WH.

There are some damn serious issues happening real time right now that are affecting each and every one of us.

Governments have some serious decisions they are going to have to make about what services to reduce, homelessness will increase, poverty is going to increase, everyone's lifestyle is going to have to take a haircut...

And still there is guarantee how all the deleveraging and wealth reduction will play out.

The question is what will the "new normal" be and how will families adjust, locally, nationally, and internationally?

Whether Warner should have run is wasting brain cells on matters that have no bearing on the situation today or tomorrow.

Let's focus Marc!

Posted by: Go Caps! | October 9, 2008 4:23 PM

"When Warner says that a President Obama's first move should be to demonstrate that he can and will cut way back on spending, Virginia audiences love the idea of a politician reaching into the other team's toolbox."

Since when is the Republican party about cutting spending? They had almost total control over government for six years and turned the balanced budget of Clinton into record deficit spending.

Before Clinton, we had Bush Sr. and Reagan, who also ran up massive deficits. So I ask again, since when is "the other team" about cutting spending?

Posted by: winner | October 9, 2008 6:47 PM

Better Mark Warner as prez than some ambulance chasing effete mediator as prez.
UBL and AQ are just waiting for Obama to take the helm. Can you imagine the effect of thousands of American deaths here in the US from terrorist attacks in the first 300 days of the Obama administration just as our economy is getting back on its feet and boom. That along with Obama's tax increases should send us into the worse Depression this country has ever seen. I take a Depends wearing Academy grad overa lawyer any day.

Remember WWII got us out of last Dperession not FDR's policies.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 10, 2008 6:34 AM

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