- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

Leave it to the Old Dominion, the birthplace of eight American presidents, to provide plenty of political drama in the unpredictable race to the Oval Office.

Sen. George Allen, a Republican, and former Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, were anointed earlier this year by the press in an anticipated campaign that imagined Virginia’s favorite sons dueling at dawn on the South Lawn of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

These lanky Virginia Gentlemen were such media darlings that Newsweek magazine published a lengthy piece pronouncing this intrastate red-versus-blue battle as the one to watch.

So much for pre-dawn predictions.

Neither “rising star” remains a viable presidential candidate. Mr. Warner bowed out yesterday; Mr. Allen torpedoed his chances weeks ago.

In a surprising development on what C-SPAN dubbed “The Road to the White House,” Mr. Warner took an early detour.

Standing in Richmond yesterday, Mr. Warner said, “I have decided not to run for president.

“While politically this appears to be the right time for me to take the plunge, at this point, I want to have a real life,” Mr. Warner said to the hastily gathered audience. “And while this chance may never come again, I shouldn’t move forward unless I’m willing to put everything else in my life on the back burner.”

I don’t know about the 51-year-old Mr. Warner, but I have learned never to say never. Mr. Warner says he wants to have a real life rather than a presidency. No matter that for nearly a decade, the political centrist demonstrated clearly that he seemed to want the presidency more than life itself.

In his all-out quest, he formed an exploratory committee, the Forward Together PAC, that raised $9 million, and he traveled across the presidential primary grounds of Iowa and New Hampshire several times.

Now, the former telecommunications executive realizes that he needs to spend more time with his family, that his daughter is about to go to college and that his father is 81 years old? Where have we heard this line before?

“These guys always say that,” said Ronald Walters, a University of Maryland political science professor, about Mr. Warner’s decision to drop out of the campaign before it gets going good.

“I don’t know what kind of tea leaves [Mr. Warner] was reading,” said Mr. Walters, who was more puzzled by Mr. Warner’s optimistic comments than his decision. “He didn’t have a snowball’s chance of winning anything, except maybe being selected as [vice president] … with all those [contenders] standing in front of him.”

Mr. Walters was referring to Democratic heavyweights such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore and 2004 presidential running mates Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards.

Sure, Mr. Warner is from the South, the home of the most recent Democratic presidents. Sure, he is has centrist policies, but “he’s not the only one,” Mr. Walters noted.

The erudite political analyst said Mr. Warner is “popular, but if he were running for president, I don’t think he’d carry his own state.” Mr. Walters is also surprised that Mr. Warner’s decision to drop out created such a buzz.

“The media tapped him as a rising star because they love a fresh face,” he said.

Still, Mr. Walters said Mr. Warner made a smart decision.

“He has been out there testing” his chances, and he was probably able to determine that his prospective candidacy was not catching on.

“He got out because the needle didn’t move, and if the needle doesn’t move, you can’t raise money,” Mr. Walters said. Besides, most of the donor money for the leading candidates is already committed, he suggested.

“The financial oxygen” an untested candidate needs must be created by something dynamic that goes beyond “just being attractive.”

Mr. Warner has not lost his charisma or attractiveness, and his decision is a loss not only to Virginians but to the nation. At a time when we need it most, there is little room across the political spectrum for centrist politicians who are willing to make compromises across party lines, as he did.

Still, one of Mr. Warner’s longtime advisers contends that lack of support or funding were not key factors in the decision to quit.

“Mark didn’t do any polls; in fact, everywhere he went he hit a home run,” the adviser said. “I think he felt he would have had to say things the liberal crowd [among Democrats] that are not in his fiber.”

He added jokingly, “And, no, he doesn’t have any skeletons or black daughters in the closet” — a subtle reference, I suppose, to the Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings legend rolling across the Monticello hills of the Old Dominion. This adviser said Mr. Warner is also aware of his easier options. The popular former governor could run for his old job or for the Senate, or he could be selected as a vice-presidential running mate, or a Cabinet member should the Democrats recapture the White House in 2008.

“He knows he’d be valuable to the eventual candidate,” the adviser said. However, it might have been difficult for Mr. Warner to win the presidential nomination as a centrist from a conservative state where he made pragmatic compromises with the Republican-controlled legislature.

“He didn’t want to compromise his fiscal record of achievement to pander to Democrats,” the adviser suggested.

Exactly how good Mr. Warner’s prospects of winning the 2008 nomination were, just as the political sands appear to be shifting from right to left, we will never know.

And, thus, the Old Dominion lost yet another chance to perpetuate its birthright claim to White House history.

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