- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

Virginia Democrats are planning to abandon a November challenge against a Republican stalwart U.S. Sen. John W. Warner despite last fall's election of Gov. Mark R. Warner and Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, both Democrats.
"John Warner is a strong candidate," said Lawrence H. Framme III , executive director of the Virginia Democratic Party. "In large part because he is such a strong candidate, no one on our bench was willing to get up to the plate and take a swing at it."
"He's a formidable candidate and has a long record of service," said Gov. Warner, who ran a spirited campaign against the senator in 1996 and lost by 6 percentage points. The two men are not related.
The Virginia Democratic Central Committee on Saturday decided against nominating a senatorial candidate for the November election, saying no credible Democrat had stepped forward to run.
Bill Wood, executive director of the Thomas C. Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia, said the Democrats have only themselves to blame for not having a strong bench to run against Sen. Warner.
"The Democratic Party is in disarray, to some extent," Mr. Wood said. "But this reflects the reality that John Warner is an immensely popular person with Republicans, independents and even Democrats . It would take someone like Mark Warner, who ran really close, to give John Warner a run for his money."
"John Warner is very popular, and the Central Committee are all experienced campaigners," said Delegate Brian Moran, Alexandria Democrat.
"We put a great deal of resources into electing Governor Warner in 2001 and we are husbanding our resources for the general election races in 2003."
Virginia Democrats also opted not to field candidates against four Republican members of the House Reps. Thomas M. Davis III of Falls Church (11th District), Jo Ann Davis of Yorktown (1st District), Edward L. Schrock of Virginia Beach (2nd District) and Robert W. Goodlatte of Roanoke (6th District).
Political observers note the state's Republican-led legislature's role in redrawing legislative boundaries for the Democrats' reluctance to field some congressional candidates.
"Congressional districts are usually reconfigured in such a way that it makes it very difficult for the minority party to compete," Mr. Wood said.
Defense Department employee Gail Crook of Alexandria has lobbied for the Democratic Party's senatorial nomination, but Mr. Framme said she could not mount a serious campaign against the four-term senator, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"We hate not having a candidate in a statewide race and [we would have] if someone had stepped forward that reflected the views and positions of the Democratic Party, which Gail Crook did not," Mr. Framme said.
Mrs. Crook, who is collecting petition signatures to run as an independent, said she was disappointed that Gov. Warner did not support her efforts for the nomination and allowed the Central Committee to forgo a candidate.
"Once we get on the ballot, we are gearing up to win this race," she said. "I am optimistic and I believe this is worth doing. There is no way to have a healthy debate on the issues when there is only one candidate."
Mrs. Crook has until Tuesday to deliver 10,000 signatures including 400 from each of the state's 11 congressional districts to the state Board of Elections office to get her name on the ballot. She is talking to the Green Party of Virginia about affiliating with it in November.
"The chances are much better if you are affiliated with a party," Mrs. Crook said.
Mr. Wood, who has monitored Virginia politics for more than 20 years, said she does not have a prayer of defeating Sen. Warner.
"I understand her frustration but I cannot think of one Democrat in 1,000 that thinks she has a chance against John Warner," he said.
A former Navy secretary, Sen. Warner was first elected in 1978 and, other than the 1996 race, has not faced serious opposition in his 24 years of service.


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