- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat who is expected to seek the presidency in 2008, said yesterday that the U.S. must “finish the job” in Iraq and that he doesn’t think the U.S. can set an “arbitrary” deadline for withdrawing troops.

“My view is that we need to finish the job, and I hope the president will lay out those milestones,” Mr. Warner told The Washington Times when asked whether he thinks the U.S. can win the war.

The governor’s response comes a day after Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said thinking that the U.S. can achieve victory in Iraq is wrong.

Last night, Mr. Warner spoke at a gala where he kicked off Forward Together PAC, a leadership political action committee he formed in the summer to explore his future options.

Mr. Warner did not announce that he was running for president, but to the nearly 1,000 supporters chanting “‘08, ‘08,” he didn’t need to.

The soiree, held at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner, raised $2.5 million, beating all previous Virginia fundraisers, including the one hosted by President Bush in July for Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore.

During his speech last night, Mr. Warner, 50, spoke often of national and international issues, He said the nation faces “enormous challenges,” including the war, the aftermath of September 11 and Hurricane Katrina.

He said those challenges cannot be solved by Democrats or Republicans, but only by “Americans coming together, rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done.”

The governor, who enjoys a 72 percent statewide approval rating as he finishes his term next month, also touched on the need for military and moral leadership, criticized the national deficit and said that leaders must ensure that “every child gets a world-class education.”

Virginia law limits governors to one term, but allows them to run again after sitting out for four years.

Mr. Warner’s credentials as a rising Democratic star were bolstered last month when Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, was elected governor of Virginia. Mr. Warner supported Mr. Kaine throughout the campaign.

The gala last night was the first of several events Mr. Warner is expected to attend this week to test the presidential waters.

Today, he is expected to speak at a Governors Appreciation Dinner in South Carolina, an early primary state. Later this week, he will address the Democratic Party Convention in Florida, a key state in the past two presidential elections. He has already been to Iowa and New Hampshire, the site of the first caucus and first primary.

Mr. Warner also made headlines last month when he commuted the sentence of death row inmate Robin Lovitt, who would have been the 1,000th person to be executed since capital punishment was reinstated.

The governor said the destruction of DNA evidence in the case warranted the extreme measure of commuting the sentence. It was the first time Mr. Warner commuted a death sentence since taking office — 11 prisoners have been executed during his term.

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