- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Will the next U.S. Senate race in the Old Dominion be as much a “battle royal” as the last that left both contenders with bloody knuckles? We can only hope if the next candidates are indeed Democrat Mark Warner, the former governor, and Republican Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, as wishful observers predict.

Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax Republican, told The Washington Times that a race between the popular centrist politicians would be “a battle royal.” His remarks came after Mr. Warner intimated that he was ready to get back into the political ring.

Of course, first we will have to bid the octogenarian statesman Sen. John W. Warner a respectful and grateful adieu, for he has served Virginia well and should be ready for a restful retirement. Like a well-bred Virginia gentleman, Mark Warner repeatedly has stated that he will not challenge the elder Mr. Warner, who is no relation.

Anybody else is fair game. That reads “Bring it on, Tom.” Or George. Mum’s the word, however, about future plans for George Allen, the former Republican governor and U.S. senator who was sent packing after a slugfest last year with gun-toting James H. Webb Jr. Conventional wisdom has that the “macaca” comment dug him an early political grave, but I wouldn”t be surprised to see Mr. Allen rise like a Lazarus sometime in my lifetime.

I”ve lived long enough and seen enough shenanigans to learn never to count anybody or any issue out in politics. Dare I mention Marion Barry, the shameless former D.C. mayor who now represents Ward 8 on the D.C. Council and has proved to have 29 political (and legal) lives? And, so it seems that Mr. Warner can”t deny the addictive pull of politics either.

Just a few months ago, Mr. Warner cut short his presidential bid — after his Forward Together PAC raised $9 million — because he said the campaign would cause too much hardship on his young family. Translation: His candidacy was lost in the Hillary hoopla. Then along came the Slam-a-lam-a-Obama train.

As I have suggested before, it might have been difficult for Mr. Warner to win the presidential nomination as a centrist from a conservative state where he made pragmatic compromises with the Republican-controlled legislature.

At the time, one of his advisers said Mr. Warner “didn”t want to compromise his fiscal record of achievement to pander to Democrats.” Back then, the 52-year-old Mr. Warner said, “While this chance may never come again, I shouldn”t move forward unless I”m willing to put everything else in my life on the back burner.” Yesterday, The Times reported that Mr. Warner wants to be thrown back into a multiple choice of campaign skillets like a slab of Virginia ham.

“I think I”ve got a voice that I would like to get back engaged in public service, and whether that is the direction of the U.S. Senate or whether that is the direction of the governorship, I have yet to make a determination,” he said. Today, Mr. Warner“s prospects include three options that are nothing to yawn about.

Behind Door No. 1, he can easily run again for governor. Behind Door No. 2, he is on the short list of people waiting to be selected as a vice presidential candidate to the Democratic nominee or for a visible Cabinet post. Behind Door No. 3, he can run for the Senate, but it will require more time, energy and money, lots of it, to win.

Robert James, former head of the Democratic Black Caucus of Virginia, said, “Given his record of achievement, any of those options are viable to Mark Warner.”

Still, the popular Mr. Warner, who made his millions in the telecommunications industry, is not telling tall tales when he says he is being courted. He is practically being begged to run for something, anything as the state”s Democrats and Republicans continue their modern-day Civil War re-enactments for the political soul of the state.

No doubt, Mr. Warner has not lost his charisma or attractiveness. At a time of bitter political bickering and division, the state and the country need politicians who are willing to make compromises across party lines, as he did.

We”ll have to wait and see what match lies ahead. Mr. Warner is still holding his cards close to the vest and is not likely to announce his intentions until after summer vacations are over and the children are back in school. That will give Mr. Davis, also a centrist, plenty of time to get his fight plan and his training team in order.

“Tom Davis is going to run, and Tom would be a formidable candidate,” said Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, a hot-tempered boxing man himself who once challenged Mr. Barry to a bout.

Not everyone is placing money on that “battle royal” bet, however.

Virginia businessman Joseph Johnson, a longtime Warner ally, pointed out that the former governor”s approval ratings still register at 80 percent.

“I expect Mark to beat Davis; he”s got a lot of crossover support that won”t go away,” Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. James agrees, noting Mr. Warner“s “proven track record” of statewide representation and service. Mr. Davis, on the other hand, has represented a single congressional district and served as chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

“Governor Warner has proven himself a capable leader for all Virginians already and it is a natural transition to see him as the next senator,” Mr. James said.

Mr. Warner“s re-entry as a candidate would be welcomed by most, whatever political door he chooses, but it is usually a good idea to take on new challenges and new opponents, especially the formidable ones, to develop new skills and talents for the good of all.

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