- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner announced yesterday he will not seek a U.S. Senate seat next year, but said that he has not ruled out running for president in 2008 and might consider running for governor again in 2009.

State Democrats first outlined the governor’s intentions Monday, but Mr. Warner, 50, made the official announcement yesterday on the “Ask the Governor” show on WTOP radio. The Senate seat in question is that of Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, a former governor.

“That doesn’t mean I’ve ruled anything else in or out,” the Democratic governor said on the interview show. “The only thing I’ve ruled out is a Senate run in 2006. One of the options I clearly haven’t ruled out is coming back and looking at a gubernatorial race again in 2009. I think we’ve made tremendous progress in Virginia.”

The Virginia Constitution prohibits governors from serving consecutive terms. Governors can sit out one term and run again, though only former Gov. Mills E. Godwin Jr. has done so. He served as a Democrat from 1966 to 1970 and then as a Republican from 1974 to 1978.

Virginia voters will elect a new chief executive in November and the winner will take office in January.

State Democrats said they are actively recruiting potential candidates to challenge Mr. Allen, but no clear candidate has emerged. Former Lt. Gov. Donald S. Beyer has indicated he is not interested in running for Mr. Allen’s seat after rumors swirled he was considering a bid. Democrats have until next spring to file the paperwork for a candidate.

“We will definitely run someone who will be a very strong candidate,” said Mark Bergman, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia. “George Allen is vulnerable, and we’re going to field a strong candidate to challenge him.”

Other potential Democratic candidates who have been mentioned include President Reagan’s secretary of the Navy, James Webb, and former U.S. Rep. L.F. Payne.

A former telecommunications mogul and millionaire, Mr. Warner said he might consider the national political stage or go back into business. Earlier this summer, he created Forward Together, an exploratory federal political action committee, and has hired a former adviser to Vice President Al Gore as a part-time political consultant to help him decide on his political future.

He declined yesterday to discuss whether he will make a presidential bid, but said he will help state Democrats in their efforts to challenge Mr. Allen.

“I want to make sure that we can go out and recruit a strong candidate by making my intentions clear this early,” Mr. Warner told WTOP.

Mr. Allen, thought to be considering a presidential bid as well, has sent out fundraising letters mentioning the possibility Mr. Warner would challenge him and the need to be financially prepared for such a prospect.

A spokesman for Mr. Allen, who is finishing out his first term in the Senate, said the campaign will not change its fundraising strategy based on Mr. Warner’s announcement.

“We are preparing to face a self-funding, multimillionaire opponent,” said Allen campaign manager Jason Miller. “We will be prepared for whoever the Democrats nominate.”

Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Kate Obenshain Griffin said she is confident that Mr. Allen will withstand the challenge.

“Democrats have made it clear they are going to be focusing on Senator Allen, but he’s well prepared for whatever candidate they select,” she said.

She also called on Mr. Warner to urge national Democrats to abandon their “empty rhetoric, filled with anger and attacks.”

A poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Inc. in late July showed Mr. Warner with a 74 percent favorable rating among statewide voters, the highest any governor has reached in 20 years of the firm’s polling.

It also showed that 57 percent of those surveyed approved of the $1.38 billion tax increase passed by the Republican-controlled legislature with Mr. Warner’s support in May 2004. The tax package raised the sales, cigarette and real estate taxes and cut some other taxes.

The poll also showed that a Warner-Allen matchup would result in a win for the Democrat in a 47-42 split. It showed 11 percent were undecided.

In 2000, Mr. Allen beat incumbent Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb, also a former governor, winning 52 percent of the vote to Mr. Robb’s 48 percent.

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