- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2005

RICHMOND — Virginia has produced more presidents than any other state in the nation — and now two of its political stars appear likely to challenge each other for the White House.

Sen. George Allen, a Republican, and Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, are widely considered to be eyeing the nation’s highest office in 2008, although neither has announced his intentions.

Mr. Allen, who once was governor, is considered an early favorite for his party’s nomination for president. He is up for re-election in the Senate in 2006.

Mr. Warner, who is completing his last year as governor, recently tapped a former adviser to former Vice President Al Gore to help him explore future options, established an exploratory committee for seeking federal office and has been traveling nationwide in his role as chairman of the National Governors Association.

Yesterday, both men appeared at the same podium at an annual education-policy luncheon, where they served as the event’s keynote speakers. The luncheon was held on the 10-year anniversary of the state’s Standards of Learning program, which was inaugurated under Mr. Allen’s watch.

Both men smiled as they dodged questions about their political futures.

“2008 is a long way away,” Mr. Allen told reporters.

Mr. Warner agreed. “There will be plenty of time for both of us to make our decisions about what, if anything, we do in the future,” he said. “There’s a time for campaigning, but there’s a longer time for governing.”

Virginia is known as the mother of presidents. Eight U.S. presidents were born there. Neither Mr. Allen nor Mr. Warner were born in Virginia.

It is rare that two persons hailing from the same state vie for the presidency.

There was little competition between the two men yesterday as Mark E. Emblidge, a member of the state Board of Education, praised Mr. Allen and Mr. Warner for their work as founding co-chairmen of the Communities in Schools (CIS) program. Both men founded the program before either was elected to their current office.

“I put together what I felt was the dream team; some people called it the odd couple,” said Mr. Emblidge, state director of CIS. “The Allen-Warner team was able to raise enough money in three days to fund CIS for four years. I want to thank both of these men for putting partisan politics aside in order to help thousands of children.”

Mr. Warner and Mr. Allen sat side-by-side at the luncheon and spent the afternoon swapping compliments and calling each other friends.

“When one looks at the future of this country and the future of this commonwealth, one of the key things that we both agree on is that we do need to make sure our youngsters are learning,” Mr. Allen said. “Most importantly, celebrate that working together, Virginia students are not just doing better on Virginia standards tests, they are doing better on national tests.”

Mr. Warner said 94.3 percent of Virginia high school seniors graduated last year. Both men acknowledged more must be done and said they are determined to continue working together.

“Virginia is ahead of the rest of the nation,” Mr. Warner said. “It is a real example of how when people can take off their partisan hats for a moment and do what they think is the best in the long-term interest of Virginia, remarkable things happen.”

Mr. Allen said the federal No Child Left Behind Act forces students in Virginia into lower academic standards.

He said he is seeking a waiver for states with higher standards.

“We have worked too hard for too many years,” Mr. Allen said. “Why should we dumb down Virginia’s education to federal levels?”

Pundits and event organizers are more than willing to speculate that Virginia might be pregnant with twins — with two potential presidential candidates, that is.

During the luncheon, Mr. Emblidge presented each man with a pair of L.L. Bean winter boots, ones he said could be useful to either man “during the next three years, in case you find yourself in Iowa and New Hampshire.” Iowa and New Hampshire are two key states early in the presidential-nomination process.

Some think Mr. Warner might challenge Mr. Allen for his Senate seat next year, yet the governor has not expressed interest in doing that.

Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, said running for Mr. Allen’s seat would be a “huge risk” for Mr. Warner. “It’s obvious Warner wants to be on the national ticket in 2008,” he said. “If he challenges Allen in ‘06 and loses, there is no chance.”

Mr. Warner will finish his term as governor in January. By law, Virginia governors cannot serve consecutive terms.

Mr. Warner recently hired Monica Dixon, a former top political aide to Mr. Gore’s presidential campaign, who will help the governor decide whether to pursue a federal office.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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