- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Former Gov. Mark Warner’s fundraising skills continue to influence Virginia politics, even though he left the state’s top post more than four months ago.

Since leaving office in January, Mr. Warner has helped Democrats Harris Miller and James H. Webb Jr. bankroll more than $210,000 as the two battle to unseat U.S. Sen. George Allen in the fall. Mr. Warner also has helped portray the Virginia Republican incumbent as a Bush lackey, having voted 96 percent of the time in favor of the administration.

“We can’t get rid of this president in 2006,” Mr. Warner said at a May 11 fundraiser for Mr. Webb. “But we can make sure that we … replace those members of Congress who vote with this president in an overwhelming majority of the time with new fresh members of the Congress and the United States Senate who will set this country in a new direction.”

Mr. Warner’s fundraising efforts have fueled speculation that the 51-year-old is motivated in part by a desire to run for president in 2008. Since its formation, his Forward Together Political Action Committee has raised almost $6 million and fed $265,000 into competitive races nationwide, helping to raise his national profile.

“A popular politician can’t transfer his popularity to someone else, but he can raise a lot of money,” said Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. Mr. Warner left office with a record-high job-approval rating.

The best scenario for Democrats is to oust Mr. Allen on Election Day, trim the Republican majority in the Senate and turn a red state blue. But that, according to polls, will be an uphill battle against the politically tested and popular Mr. Allen.

Robert Holsworth, director of the Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University, said Mr. Allen’s Senate race has “tremendous national implications” because “if he wins hands down, it will fuel his [possible] presidential bid.”

It also raises the question of whether Mr. Warner is trying to put a dent in Mr. Allen’s presidential drive to elevate Mr. Warner’s own status as a presidential candidate. During the Webb fundraiser, Mr. Warner told The Washington Times that was “rank speculation.” Then he grinned.

The June 13 Democratic primary features two untested politicians.

Mr. Miller, a former information-technology executive with deep roots in Virginia’s Democratic Party, has received the endorsement of more than 20 members of the General Assembly. Mr. Webb, a former Republican who served as secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, has received support from several top Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

This month, Mr. Warner helped Mr. Webb raise more than $110,000, and earlier this year, Mr. Warner attended a fundraiser for Mr. Miller, his friend of more than 20 years, helping him rake in $103,000.

Mr. Warner said he will remain neutral in the Senate race. However, Mr. Warner’s wife, Lisa Collis, donated $4,200 to Mr. Miller’s campaign, and Mr. Warner’s business partner, Nicholas Perrins, gave $2,100. Ellen Qualls, a spokeswoman for Mr. Warner, donated $250 to the Miller campaign.

Last week, Mr. Warner also lent a hand at a fundraiser for Democrat Philip Jefferson Kellam, who is trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Thelma Drake, Virginia Republican, in what could be one of the more competitive House races in the country. Mr. Warner’s political action committee also has contributed $5,000 to Mr. Kellam’s campaign, according to federal campaign records.

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