- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2001

DUBLIN, Va. — Mark R. Warners promises to the people of Southwest Virginia have become a soundtrack to their lives.
The Democratic gubernatorial candidates message that he will be "the hero of the hills," enshrined in a banjo-strummed tune called "Warner," was inescapable during the weeks it ran as part of Mr. Warners television campaign ad. He couldnt go anywhere in the region without someone praising the ad or pleading with him to keep it off the air, because once the song got into their heads, it didnt leave.
The 46-year-old businessman will become his partys official candidate in todays Democratic primary. He is running unopposed and will face Republican Mark L. Earley in November.
On a recent 24-hour campaign trip to Southwest Virginia — by his count, his 28th so far — the candidate visited at Dublin with bikers heading off to be part of the Memorial Day Rolling Thunder ride on the Mall. He shook hands with voters in Roanoke and later in New Castle, at Craig Countys 150th birthday party. He had his picture taken with one of the godfathers of bluegrass music at Ralph Stanleys Bluegrass Festival in Dickenson County, and he waved the green flag to start the Saturday evening race at Lonesome Pine International Speedway in Coeburn.
Everywhere he went, he delivered a brief version of his campaign pitch — that technology, particularly the Internet, has turned economies and politics inside out. It will take a guy that "gets it" to bring prosperity to this region and keep prosperity in the rest of the state.
"I dont pretend to say I get it all, but hopefully Im conscious [enough] to know this stuff is changing at Internet speed, and weve got to have people who are not afraid of the change, and who are sensitive to the fact that everything is in flux," Mr. Warner says.
"Thats why I keep talking about this refrain from me all the time — it isnt about Republicans and Democrats anymore. It isnt about the old party things. Its about whos going to understand it and take advantage of the opportunity."
Most things stem from that —the need for accountability in government, for better public schools and better state colleges and universities, and for a good transportation system, he says. To that end, he has a list of ideas for what might work, but not much he is wedded to — yet.
"What I am is an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur is somebody who can sometimes seize upon a good idea, bring people together, hopefully, then empower a management team to then go out and work on that idea, and then take it into action," he says. "The thing Im proudest of is that record [of saying], 'Heres a problem, heres hopefully a fairly creative solution, and then, as opposed to talking about it, actually doing it. That spirit and that attitude, Id like to try to bring to state government."
Thats his pitch — give him the chance, he will bring the Internet economy to the whole state. Or, as the refrain of the bluegrass campaign song goes: "Warner, for public education. Warner, what a reputation. Warner, vote in this election, to keep our children home."
Mr. Warner is making his second bid for a statewide seat, having lost the 1996 Senate race to the unrelated Sen. John W. Warner. He has never held public office, which would be a first for a modern Virginia governor, but his political roots run deep.
He assisted then-U.S. Rep. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, from 1975 to 1978, worked as a fund-raiser for the Democratic Party in the 1980s, ran L. Douglas Wilders gubernatorial campaign and transition committee in 1989, and served as chairman of the state Democratic Party from 1993 to 1995.
Absent from his stump speeches, though, are typical red-meat Democrat topics, like guns and abortion rights.
"Thats not the burning reason Im trying to take on this job," he says.
Mr. Warner says he is proud to be a Democrat and welcomes the trappings the party label brings, but he hopes his campaign transcends party labels.
"I talk a lot about in terms of education, one of the ways you might incentivize and encourage more people to get into teaching a stock option plan for teachers," he says. "Youre talking about education, that must be a Democrat plan. Youre talking about stock options, that must be a Republican plan. I dont know if party label gives you any guide on that."
What it boils down to, he says, is that hes not the typical Democrats Democrat: "I think generally a Democrats historical perspective of trying to look out for some of the more disadvantaged of society is something I adhere to, but Im a Democrat that feels that its better to teach someone to fish than to give him the fish."
Call him the Tony Blair of Virginia politics —the man who promises not to undo the reforms of his Republican predecessors, but suggests a "third way" to carry on. In this case, that third way is the route of the technology candidate —a new breed of politician who believes technology is changing the way governing and economics work.
Critics sing their own songs about him. Ed Matricardi, executive director of the state Republican Party, penned words to the tune of "The Beverly Hillbillies" sitcom theme, calling Mr. Warner a "rich profiteer" who is trying to buy his way into the governors mansion.
Darrell Laurant, a columnist at the Lynchburg News-Advance newspaper, wrote his own words to the same tune: "The next thing we know, hey, Marks a good ol boy. A consultant takes him hunting, got a race car as a toy. Hes shaking hands in Southside, his consultants takin notes. They got to figure how to get some redneck votes."
Mr. Warner says its not pandering, its outreach. Same message statewide, just different trappings. And it seems to be resonating. A constant refrain among folks whose hands he is shaking in Southwest is that Republicans have held power in the state long enough. All they ask is that he not forget them if he wins.

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