- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner is shaping up to be an alternative to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as a presidential nominee, some New Hampshire Democrats said.

Mr. Warner, who enjoyed a more than 70 percent statewide approval rating when he left office last month, would be a better choice because he works with Republicans while the New York Democrat and former first lady is too polarizing, the Democrats said.

“Unfortunately, there is a lot of baggage that goes with Senator Clinton, and Governor Warner doesn’t have that,” said Susan Scheffer, a Democratic activist from Concord. “There are a lot of moderate Republicans who don’t like Senator Clinton who would be more inclined to support a Governor Warner. He has cross appeal.”

The Democrats made their comments this past weekend as Mr. Warner, 51, paid a visit to New Hampshire, a key state because of its first-in-the-nation primary status.

Party activists Friday got a preview of what might be Mr. Warner’s presidential stump speech should the former governor seek the nation’s top office in 2008.

Visiting New Hampshire suggests that Mr. Warner is on his way to challenging Mrs. Clinton, who has been called the Democratic front-runner. Mrs. Clinton, unlike Mr. Warner, is nationally known.

Mr. Warner called Mrs. Clinton a “great leader in our party. Whatever she decides to do, she will have enormous impact.”

Kenneth Appel, a retired college math professor from Dover, thinks Mrs. Clinton would make a great president but is worried that her critics are too powerful to overcome. “It’s reasonable to believe that Governor Warner would not have a set of enemies as organized as those who hate the Clintons,” said Mr. Appel, 73. “I want [Democrats] to win, and I want somebody who can appeal to a broad spectrum.”

State Sen. Sylvia B. Larsen, a Democrat, said the heavy “chatter” about Mr. Warner likely is not enough to trump Mrs. Clinton. “She is well-loved because of her work when she was up here with her husband,” she said.

Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, isn’t sure there can be a front-runner in New Hampshire this early in the process. “It’s a wide-open field. I think anybody can do well. The candidates enter into what is a level playing field,” he said.

The Granite State will become more critical in the next two years as both parties have no sure nominee in a presidential field that hasn’t been this open since 1952.

“New Hampshire is an opportunity for candidates to meet regular voters and break out of the bubble,” said Kathy Sullivan, chairman of the state Democratic Party. “We serve as a sounding board, and you’ll sometimes see the presidential field narrowed here.”

During a speech to nearly 500 guests at the state party’s “100 Club” fundraising dinner, Mr. Warner touched on themes of opportunity. He said he was elected in the “reddest of red states” and that lawmakers in Washington should focus on results, not partisanship.

“We can’t afford leaders who are about posturing and polarization rather than foresight and follow-through,” Mr. Warner said.

Mr. Warner said national security is the most important issue.

“The president’s people like to say that we Democrats are stuck in a pre-9/11 mentality,” he said. “I was the very first person elected in this country after 9/11, and let me tell you, all of us — Democrats, Republicans and independents — we all remember what happened that day and we are all resolved to never allow it to happen again.”

Peter Van Winkle, a former Republican, said Mr. Warner might provide unity. “There’s a lack of arrogance, there’s a sense that he understands the importance of bringing everyone together and not to try to bash Republicans,” he said.

Still, Mr. Warner offered his most aggressive criticisms yet of the Republican-led Congress and President Bush, though he didn’t mention the president by name.

Mr. Warner alluded to the Abramoff lobbying scandal and noted the investigations surrounding key Republicans, including former Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

“You can almost understand how things like running the government get pushed aside, but that’s what happened since they placed political operatives in top federal jobs,” he said.

It was Mr. Warner’s second visit to New Hampshire in recent months. He is scheduled to visit California and Wisconsin in the coming weeks, and his advisers are working out a trip to Iowa, which holds the nation’s first caucuses.

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