- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2000

Mark R. Warner, the presumptive Democratic nominee to be Virginia's governor in 2001, gave the race a high-tech kick-start last night, raising more than $1.1 million a state record for one sitting at a Reston, Va., fund-raiser.

In addition to adding to the campaign bank account of Mr. Warner, whose personal wealth is estimated to be more than $200 million, the event gave him a chance to test his early campaign message before a friendly group of more than 600 supporters.

Mr. Warner did not announce his candidacy, however, saying he will wait until after the November elections, campaign chief of staff Steve Jarding said.

Poised in front of a sign shaped like the state of Virginia "bringing Virginia together, new economy, new opportunities" Mr. Warner spoke of the need to bring Virginia up to speed in technology and education.

"I'm running for governor because Virginia needs leadership from someone who understands the fundamental transformation our world is experiencing," Mr. Warner said.

The $1,000-per-head event was broadcast over the Internet.

Mr. Warner stuck mostly to generalities, talking about opportunities for children and not leaving anyone behind in the new economy.

Mixing barbecue and chardonnay, the supporters included AOL chief Ted Leonsis and film maker Tim Reid plus an array of the state Democratic Party's top donors.

Former Rep. L.F. Payne Jr., the only other Democrat who had publicly considered a run, called Mr. Warner "an excellent candidate as indicated by the overwhelming response here tonight."

When Mr. Payne bowed out Monday, he cited Mr. Warner's insurmountable lead in fund raising and resources.

Mr. Warner is managing partner at Columbia Capital, which invests in technology firms.

He has been a fund-raiser for local and national party efforts and a state party chairman, and he ran, unsuccessfully, to unseat Sen. John W. Warner the two are unrelated in 1996.

But his lack of holding elected office has state Republican leaders calling Mr. Warner an "unqualified political hack." They say he hasn't proven himself in anything but raising money and being rich.

"If Mark Warner didn't have a [huge] bank account, his candidacy would be a joke," said Ed Matricardi, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.

"He is a very liberal Democrat who has done a good job of using his money to mask what he really is," said Dick Leggitt, an adviser to Lt. Gov. John H. Hager, one of the two Republicans seeking the nomination to face Mr. Warner.

But Mr. Warner's campaign said many of those in attendance last night were independents or Republicans an example of the coalition Mr. Warner can build across the state.

Mr. Jarding said the fund-raiser puts to rest the claim stemming from the 1996 race that Mr. Warner only had his own money, and couldn't raise any.

Advisers to Mr. Warner's potential Republican challengers, Attorney General Mark L. Earley and Mr. Hager, expect Mr. Warner to spend as much as $20 million in the race.

"The old song, money can't buy you love and money can't necessarily buy you votes," said Anne B. Kincaid, an adviser to Mr. Earley.

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