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THE NEW DOMINION/Mark Warner Prepares to Enter the Senate

Posted on Dec 30,2008
Filed Under Local Leaders , Community,
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photo by John Arundel/Local Kicks
The post-election days of Mark Warner have been filled with thanking his
supporters for raising him more than $12 million for his successful bid and
putting into gear a team of advisers for his Senate office which will match
the energy level and intellectual firepower of his gubernatorial cabinet
from 2002 to 2006. "I'm high energy and I think people want to see
things get done," Warner told reporters the next day after his win.

Mark Warner has always been a "big tent" politician.

Borrowing a page from Bill Clinton's play book, he burst onto Virginia's political scene in 1994 with a unique brand of social pragmatism and fiscal restraint that made him the darling of Blue Dog democrats and swing voters.
 
That year, as an untested political neophyte, he nearly clipped John Warner's Senate seat from him, losing the election by a hair.

Neighbors being neighbors, both Warners of Alexandria exercised a rare modicum of civility and self-restraint in the '94 campaign. Neither resorted to the kind of scorched-earth attacks or policy distortions which seemed to win elections at the time.
 
It was a smart strategy which attracted a lot of Independents and social conservatives to the Mark Warner camp. Most never left.

It was also in 1994 when Mark Warner and his wife, Lisa Collis, began hosting a pig roast at their 100-acre farm in Dogue, Va., just east of Fredericksburg.
 
It was a chance for North Virginia and South Virginia to come together for an afternoon of conviviality, to put aside our differences in accents and way of life along the banks of the Rappahannock, the river which some political historians call the "grits line." (They often eat grits for breakfast. We don't.)

So it went again last fall in King George County, a great moment for the NASCAR voters from southwest Virginia to mix and mingle with the "chardonnay-swilling crowd" from Northern Virginia.
 
Except there was no wine. Only kegs of beer and heaping platters of pork. Lots of pork (the caterer prepared food for 7,000). There were no speeches, either; just hay wagons, pony rides, dips in the pool and a woman named Lola the Clown engaging the kids in face painting and silly magic.

Having thrown his hat into the U.S. Senate ring a year before, there was an energy coursing through the crowd. The Old Town entrepreneur who just two years ago was one of the Democratic Party's greatest hope of winning back The White House, was back in the ring.

Warner passed on a presidential run in October 2006, citing the need to spend more time with his wife and three daughters. The decision further enhanced his credentials as a family values politician. So Republican. The Democrats ate it up: Mark Warner had co-opted another of their platforms.

In so doing, Warner helped turn the state from red to blue to purple, the political shade of voter somewhere between conservative and liberal. Patti Jackson, an adjunct professor at George Mason University, said she "wouldn't be surprised if he ran for president eventually." For his part, Warner appeared too busy shaking the hands of nearly every one of his 5,700 well-wishers to think about that at the moment.

While his dog Buster romped in the front yard, Warner stood patiently and greeted his guests with extended conversations and posed for photos. One farmer brought the cell phone magnate homegrown peach preserves. Warner, wearing a rust-brown polo shirt, shorts and sandals, was also sporting a knee bandage to cover a gash he'd received earlier in the day during a pickup game of basketball with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.

By the end of the day, as the sun began to set and the crowds dispersed, the long line to greet the former governor was about the only thing left. "I need your support more than ever," he said.

This time, Mark Warner was taking no chances.  Lisa Collis Warner seemed to be sighing relief on Election Day when she and her husband stepped into their neighborhood polling station at Lyles Crouch Traditional Academy. "I'm looking forward to his shorter commute and having him home more," said Collis, who along with his four daughters convinced her husband not to run for President back in 2006 when he was a widely favored.

Her husband captured the Senate seat of retiring Alexandria Sen. John W. Warner (R)  later that day by a landslide margin of 30 percentage points over Republican Jim Gilmore, had been circumspect that morning with reporters when asked about his chances of winning. "I'm cautiously optimistic," he said, flashing his trademark grin.

Warner came to politics after a successful career in telecommunications, having co-founded the company which became Nextel and was managing partner of Old Town-based Columbia Capital, which made bets in venture capital. He ran and lost against John Warner in 1996 before running again for Governor, and leaving office with an 80 percent approval rating.

The post-election days of committed ethicist Mark Warner are filled with thanking his supporters for raising him more than $12 million for his successful bid and putting into gear a team of advisers for his Senate office which will match the energy level and intellectual firepower of his gubernatorial cabinet from 2002 to 2006.  "I'm high energy and I think people want to see things get done," Warner told reporters the next day after his win.

Senator-elect Warner, who was known to get things done in Richmond with breakneck efficiency, will join the World's Greatest Deliberative Body on Jan. 6 with a high-octane personality and get-things-done-now mentality which might clash with the more deliberative pace of the United States Senate.  "You can make the job whatever you choose, and I intend to be active," Warner said.

While Warner declined to outline his list of wished-for committee assignments or specific policy plans for the first months of his six-year term, he did offer that his highest priority is "getting this economy jump-started," which includes reining in federal spending.  

Warner also said the time is ripe to develop a sound bi-partisan energy policy. "Energy could be the issue that challenges America's imagination," Warner said, citing promotion of incentives for U.S. automakers to develop a car that gets 80 to 100 miles per gallon.

In the months leading up to the first election which turned Virginia to Blue from Red for the first time since 1964, Warner, along with fellow Sen. Jim Webb (D) and protege Gov. Tim Kaine (D) worked the coal towns and conservative areas of southwest Virginia to ensure victory, both for him and for his fellow Harvard classmate, Barack Obama.

In the end, it was a strategy which carried Warner to a commanding win in all 11 congressional districts and everywhere but six of the state's localities. Over a third of self-described conservatives voted for him.

Obama won the state by five percentage points, despite a massive military population of 800,000 voters who leaned towards Vietnam war hero John McCain in most exit polls. "I think the repeated visits definitely helped" Obama carry the state, Warner said.

Not one to claim total credit for his landslide victory, Warner congratulated campaign manager Mike Henry for "the best campaign I've ever seen in Virginia."

Just two years ago, Republicans controlled both seats in the Senate. But Warner's victory gives Democrats control of both Virginia Senate seats for the first time since 1970.   

On Thursday, Warner argued against the notion that Democrats are the beneficiaries of seismic shifts in the state's demographics, which has turned Northern Virginia into a melting pot of ethnic workers who traditionally vote Democratic. Warner argued instead that Democrats have moved to more centrist platforms such as his own, which focus on "practical solutions and good management," rather than ideology.

"It's because we have produced results," Warner said. "I don't think there is a permanent political realignment going on."



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