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Mark Warner's Blueprint to Win Virginia

Former Virginia governor Mark Warner, the man who seven years ago broke the Republican stranglehold on statewide elected offices, told The Fix in an interview today that Barack Obama can be the first Democratic presidential candidate in more than 40 years to win the Commonwealth in the fall.

The road map Warner laid out for Obama -- win major margins in northern Virginia, drive high turnout in the outer suburbs of Washington and "not get smoked in the rural parts of the state" in Warner's words -- is a carbon copy of the strategy Warner used to win the governorship in 2001 and the one 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 the town of 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.

Warner 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."

Both Obama and McCain are advertising on television in Virginia -- a sign that both sides think the Commonwealth is up for grabs in November. Democrats, privately, tend to see a win in Virginia as something of a long shot turnover possibility although the race made it onto The Fix's most recent battleground states Line.

As for his own political future, Warner reiterated his lack of interest in serving as Obama's running mate but did leave the door wide open to a potential presidential bid in 2012 or 2016.

Warner said 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.

One thing is certain about Warner's political future -- it won't involve decades in the Senate. "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."

Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant sought to create space between Warner and Obama, insisting that the Illinois senator is not someone who has demonstrated a willingness or ability to part ways with the national party.

"As Mark Warner said, Virginians want leaders who can get things done," said Conant. "But what has Obama accomplished? When has he broken with the national Democratic Party to reach across the aisle on an issue important to Virginia?"

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 8, 2008; 3:15 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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