- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

Congressional candidates in Iowa, South Carolina and Missouri have a friend in common — former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, the object of widespread speculation as a 2008 presidential hopeful.

Mr. Warner has opened his political action committee’s checkbook to candidates in those key presidential states and others. The Democrat said he wants to help centrists who will make Washington more efficient, but his efforts also are building crucial ground support where he needs it most.

Mr. Warner said he supports candidates with “the same kind of common-sense, results-driven approach to politics that we brought in Virginia,” where he was popular despite raising taxes by $1.38 billion in 2004 to balance the state’s budget.

“We can claim that sensible center [and] expand on our Democratic family by also including disaffected Republicans [and] independents who are afraid of the rightward drift of the Republican Party in this country,” he said.

Mr. Warner is holding a fundraiser next month for Democrat Claire McCaskill, the state auditor of Missouri, who is challenging Republican Sen. Jim Talent.

Mr. Warner is a “positive leader” for the Democratic Party, who is well-respected by the same type of fiscally minded independents Mrs. McCaskill is courting for votes, McCaskill campaign spokeswoman Adrianne Marsh said. The Hotline On Call political blog, hotlineblog.nationaljournal.com, recently posted a quote from a leading Missouri Democrat who called Mr. Warner a “map-changer” who can turn a “red” state “blue.”

Mr. Warner also is traveling to boost his own name recognition, which will be critical if he mounts a challenge to the presumed Democratic front-runner for president, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. The New York senator and former first lady tops nearly all the early presidential polls.

But Mr. Warner, a self-made millionaire, has fundraising skills of his own; his Forward Together Political Action Committee so far has brought in more than $4 million from donors nationwide. And candidates such as Mrs. McCaskill and Rep. James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, are benefiting from his cash.

Mr. Warner, 51, left office in January and jumped right into a travel schedule that included a New Hampshire Democratic dinner and the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He gets back to business with an April keynote speech in Missouri and a Democratic gala in Wisconsin, where he will be the headliner.

Also next month, he will host a fundraiser in Iowa for Democratic Rep. Leonard L. Boswell, who enjoys introducing White House contenders to Iowans, particularly a “fresh face” such as Mr. Warner, said Mr. Boswell’s chief of staff, Ned Michalek.

While the former governor is collecting friends in red states, some of his political enemies are preparing for his presidential run.

“There are a number of people who won’t be president in 2009, and Mark Warner is one of them,” said Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. The group plans to remind voters in 2008 that Mr. Warner broke a gubernatorial campaign promise in 2001 that he would not raise taxes.

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