- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2001

RICHMOND Mark R. Warner officially announced his candidacy for Virginia governor yesterday, saying he is a different kind of Democrat and a different kind of candidate.
In stops at Abingdon, Roanoke, Norfolk and Richmond, Mr. Warner told crowds he will bring a businessman's perspective to the challenges of a diverse state and a changing economy, and better management in state government.
"I want to be your governor because I think I've got the business experience to understand these changes, because I've got the energy, because I've got the willingness to work across regional and partisan lines to make sure that no Virginia family is left behind," said Mr. Warner, who began an 11-day tour of the state.
The Alexandria resident is managing partner of Columbia Capital Corp., a venture-capital firm that has done well investing in Northern Virginia technology start-ups.
Mr. Warner, 46, is unopposed for the Democratic nomination to run for governor, so he is already positioning himself for the general election.
That's a luxury his eventual Republican opponent doesn't have. Attorney General Mark L. Earley and Lt. Gov. John H. Hager are running for the Republican nomination, and both men are focused on that, rather than on November.
Absent from Mr. Warner's 25-minute stump speech were standard Democratic themes like abortion rights and gun control. Instead, he talked about state issues like disparate job growth between Northern Virginia and the rest of the state and about families without clean drinking water in Southwest Virginia.
Not once in his speech did he criticize policies instituted by Gov. James S. Gilmore III and former Gov. George F. Allen, both Republicans. He even said he would work to better the Standards of Learning academic-assessment program both governors created, and said he supports eliminating the car tax.
He did, however, frequently criticize the way government has been managed particularly the Department of Transportation. He said that as a businessman, he would know how to run things better.
"If we are going to provide car-tax relief and meet basic needs like education and transportation and social services, we need a governor with business experience who knows how to grow the economy and also knows how to hold state government accountable for how it spends its dollars," he said.
Mr. Warner has never held elected office. He was head of the Commonwealth Transportation Board for four years, was a key player in L. Douglas Wilder's campaign for governor in 1989, and has served as chairman of the state Democratic Party.
But most Virginians probably know him from his "Mark not John" run against U.S. Sen. John W. Warner in 1996 a race he lost by 52 percent to 47 percent.
Yesterday, Republicans challenged him to take a stand on the car tax whether he favors keeping it on track to be eliminated entirely for the first $20,000 of a car's value by next year. Mr. Warner has said he thinks the cut should go forward, but only if it's fiscally responsible.
Republicans criticized that and Mr. Warner's lack of specific programs in the speech.
"This is a general feel-good campaign. Hopefully, Mark Warner will get beyond the generalities and focus on some of the specifics," said Ed Matricardi, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.
Much of Mr. Warner's trip around the state is designed to show that he's about more than just business success and personal wealth.
The campaign has blocked out some time for Mr. Warner to hit the local athletic clubs and play a few pickup basketball games. He'll also take a spin in a race car around the NASCAR track in South Boston.
He is also scheduled to visit the shooting range with the sheriff of Pulaski County. Add to that the orange bumper stickers that proclaim "sportsmen for Warner" a sort of political code that usually means hunters and gun-rights supporters and it's easy to see Mr. Warner isn't ready to concede groups that traditionally vote Republican in statewide elections.
For a non-politician, Mr. Warner has successfully positioned himself for a run at governor over the last four years, analysts say.
One critical move was to create four regional venture-capital funds throughout the state to help business startups. The first, Southwest One, started in 1998, and others followed in Southside Virginia, the Richmond area and Hampton Roads.
The funds give him a presence in those areas that touches businesses and residents in a way that the average political officeholder cannot.
"I think it's a brilliant strategy, because without having held elected office, without having a public record, he can point to tangible things he has done for people," said Mark Rozell, a professor at Catholic University who studies Virginia politics.

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