- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 28, 2001

Voters can judge Democrat Mark R. Warner and Republican Mark L. Earley by the company they keep, now that the key endorsements in the race for Virginia governor are in.
Endorsements used to mean a lot in the days before television, when voters didn't get to see candidates and instead relied on groups they respected for electoral guidance.
Now, endorsements are mainly a signal to a group's members to get out and organize on behalf of their chosen candidate. In Mr. Warner's case, for example, gaining union endorsements means that union members will run phone banks on his behalf, reminding members to vote on Nov. 6, and to vote for Mr. Warner.
Endorsements do count on matters such as abortion or gun control, each of which attracts its share of single-issue voters.
True to his campaign message this year, Mr. Warner, a telecommunications executive, has put together a politically diverse group of backers. In addition to unions, environmentalists and groups that support abortion rights which typically back Democrats he also has the support of several public-safety groups and business associations.
"An example of the breadth of Mark Warner's support is the fact that while he has the support of labor he also has support of the business community the Washington Board of Trade is on [the endorsement list], the Realtors are on there," said Warner spokesman Mo Elleithee. "He clearly will be a governor who is able to bridge the gap between different communities and bring different organizations and people together."
Mr. Earley, meanwhile, has won backing from an ethnically diverse collection of groups including the American Peruvian Chamber of Commerce and the Young Hispanic Republican Association. He also has the support of fellow Republican President Bush.
"The highlight of our list of endorsements is President Bush," said David Botkins, a spokesman for Mr. Earley. "The Oval Office visit in July fell on Mark's birthday, and President Bush gave a warm embrace to Mark's campaign, praising him for his commitment to tax relief and educational excellence."
The candidates were denied bragging rights by two of the state's highest-profile groups when the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) decided not to endorse either candidate.
Even though it didn't make an endorsement, the NRA sent a letter to members calling Mr. Earley the clear choice for those who vote based on Second Amendment issues. And Mr. Earley picked up the endorsement of other gun rights supporters such as the Virginia Shooting Sports Association.
The FOP didn't endorse this year because neither candidate achieved the support of two-thirds of the local lodges, which is the new requirement to earn an FOP endorsement.
Still, the Warner campaign considered that a small victory because Mr. Earley was the state's attorney general from 1998 until he resigned in June to campaign, and he couldn't win the major police association's backing.
The FOP's neutrality didn't stop both men from claiming to enjoy the support of police. Mr. Earley touts the endorsement of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America as proof of his public safety credentials. But Mr. Warner counters that the alliance is a front group for the NRA.
Endorsements also can be used as inoculation against an opponent's charges.
In 1985, when Democrat L. Douglas Wilder was running for lieutenant governor and facing questions that he might be soft on crime, he got great mileage out of an advertisement featuring several sheriffs from the southern part of the state endorsing him and telling voters they trusted him on the issue.
This year Mr. Warner has used the endorsement of several sheriffs to respond to his opponent's campaign message that only Mr. Earley has the public safety experience to be governor in a post-Sept. 11 world.


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