- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Virginia Democrats haven’t been this optimistic in years.

There’s talk of Gov. Mark Warner running for the U.S. Senate or stepping up to an even higher post. Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine is raking in the contributions and support for his bid to follow in Mr. Warner’s footsteps in Richmond. And, some Democrats say they fully expect to pick up seats in next year’s election of all 100 House delegates.

Mr. Warner battled it out with a Republican-controlled legislature for 115 days as the majority of lawmakers pledged not to raise taxes. But the Democratic governor claimed victory as the legislature passed a record $1.38 billion tax-increase plan that will get his blessing.

Mr. Kaine, who serves as president of the Senate, said Tuesday the budget deal helps his chances at winning next year’s gubernatorial race.

“The budget was a large victory for the governor,” Mr. Kaine said. “I don’t think the Las Vegas odds on achieving what he set out to do would have been high. He gets a tremendous amount of credit for being a deal maker.”

“And I do believe it is positive for me as well,” Mr. Kaine added.

Mr. Kaine said Democrats won especially big with the business community, which endorsed Mr. Warner’s plan. He also applauded the support from a broad coalition of businesses, local government leaders, educators and deputy sheriffs.

Other Democrats believe Mr. Warner’s victory might pave the way for the party to capture more seats in the House next year.

Delegate Brian J. Moran, who is chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said the Democratic message next year will be the Republicans’ “inability to govern.” He said it was too early to predict how the November 2005 elections will turn out, but said Democrats are likely to add seats to the 37 they now hold in the 100-member House.

Kerry Donley, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said Mr. Warner is an attractive candidate for U.S. senator or for a potential role in a Democratic presidential administration.

“This year shows he can work in a bipartisan manner,” Mr. Donley said. “This demonstrated his ability to work with both sides of the aisle and his ability to govern, as opposed to playing politics. It’s certainly a good sign for Mr. Warner’s future.”

Mr. Moran, Alexandria Democrat, said “Warner’s stock soared” at the end of the budget fight.

“Warner navigated a very difficult approach with a Republican legislature and he got his wish,” he said. “It can only be positive to the governor.”

Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said that in addition to the budget, the governor is taking on government reform, challenges in education and efforts to help small, female- and minority-owned businesses.

Miss Qualls said the legislative success on both accounts will add to Mr. Warner’s legacy as governor.

“To have taken on tax reform and fixing a structural imbalance in our budget are some of the thorniest things a politician can take on,” she said.

Mr. Warner could not be reached for comment for this article.

When the legislature passed the record tax increase, antitax Republican lawmakers noted Mr. Warner’s victory.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William County Republican, even alluded to rumors that Mr. Warner is on a list of potential vice presidential candidate choices for likely Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.

“For Republicans to do this and make Mark Warner a viable vice presidential candidate is all the reason anybody needed to call us the ‘Stupid Party,’” Mr. Marshall said when the House passed the tax-increase plan.

The Republican Party of Virginia, which staunchly opposed the tax increases, does not feel the plan will help the Democrats, however.

“For 2 years, Mark Warner has been looking for a legacy and he’s found one — the largest tax increase in Virginia’s history,” said Republican Party spokesman Shawn Smith.

Though the tax increase was possible only by a bipartisan teaming of several Republicans with Democrats in the House and Senate, Mr. Smith blames the Democrats.

“This tax increase is the result of a united Democratic Party that was intent on raising taxes at all costs,” he said.

Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, the presumptive Republican challenger to Mr. Kaine next year, opposed tax increases.

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