- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner yesterday stunned state and national Democrats when he announced he will not run for president in 2008 so he can spend more time with his family.

The one-time rising star of the Democratic Party had been exploring a White House bid since before he left office in January, making frequent visits to Iowa and New Hampshire and giving generously to national candidates.

Mr. Warner said “weeks of contemplation, soul-searching and an awful lot of prayer” convinced him the pressures of a national campaign weren’t fair to his family — wife Lisa Collis and daughters — 12, 15 and 16. But he didn’t rule out seeking the vice presidency two years from now, or running for governor again.

“While politically this is the right time, it’s not the right time in my life,” said Mr. Warner, 51. “I want to have a real life because these moments with my family won’t come again.”

“It came down to the fact that if I wasn’t ready to put everything else in my life — my family, my friends, any other interests — on the back burner, then I shouldn’t do this,” he said.

The loss of a centrist Democrat from a southern state when former first lady Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the presumed 2008 front-runner throws a wrench into the presidential primary contest.

Bloggers and party activists worried the remaining contenders don’t have a resume as impressive as Mr. Warner’s that could beat Mrs. Clinton, a New York Democrat many call polarizing.

“All Democrats are jockeying for a single position — to be the alternative to Hillary — and Warner was the moderate alternative,”said Robert D. Holsworth, dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University. “This helps Hillary because it takes away a contender who was successful in the money race.”

Known for his toothy grin and hands-on style, Mr. Warner had been telling his friends for months he still hadn’t made a decision about 2008, despite his fundraising and organized campaign.

During a visit with his 81-year-old father in Connecticut last weekend, Mr. Warner toured colleges with his oldest daughter, and realized it was time to announce he won’t embark on a presidential campaign.

Yesterday, Mr. Warner lamented that toward the end of his daughters’ soccer, field hockey and tennis seasons, he has seen “half of one game.” He has spent the year traveling the country, with 86 events in 25 states.

Mr. Warner’s political action committee, Forward Together, raised $9 million this year, more than any other federal PAC. He gave $7.3 million this year to candidates nationwide.

Mr. Warner said yesterday he has “complete conviction” he “would have had as good a shot to be successful as any potential candidate in the field.”

The blogs exploded with the news, and some pondered whether Mr. Warner had cut a deal with Mrs. Clinton to become her running mate. Others wondered if there was a scandal brewing, a theory Mr. Warner quickly squashed.

Mr. Warner wasn’t shy about his interest in the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Sen. John W. Warner, who is likely to retire in 2008. “I have a lot of public service left in me; what form that takes, time will tell,” he said.

Mr. Warner, who left the governor’s office with a nearly 80 percent popularity rating, also could decide to run for the state’s top office again in 2009. Virginia law bars chief executives from seeking consecutive terms.

Mr. Warner’s 2001 election in a heavily Republican state gave national Democrats hope in the South, wooing rural voters with a bluegrass campaign tune and a NASCAR sponsorship.

Despite pushing a $1.38 billion tax package through Virginia’s Republican-controlled legislature in 2004, Mr. Warner’s popularity skyrocketed. That year, he was considered as a vice-presidential contender.

He further bolstered his credentials when he helped his lieutenant governor, Democrat Timothy M. Kaine, win the governor’s race last fall. At the end of last year, Mr. Warner officially began work on his PAC at a gala in Tysons Corner.

Yesterday’s announcement shocked some of his confidants and staff, several of whom were visibly shaken at the PAC’s headquarters in Old Town Alexandria. The PAC will continue through the Nov. 7 elections, sources said.

Mr. Warner also kept plans to campaign for a Democratic candidate in Iowa, and next week will campaign in Virginia with James H. Webb Jr., the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate.

Delegate Brian J. Moran said he was disappointed with the decision because Mr. Warner had an attractive record. “He would have made a great president,” the Alexandria Democrat said.

A former telecommunications executive and millionaire, Mr. Warner ran a campaign known for innovation. When a cell phone interrupted his campaign speeches he would smile and say, “You hear an annoying ring, I hear ka-ching, ka-ching.”

He often brought crowds to their feet with his talk of centrist politics and the importance of global competitiveness. He also was known to unwind with a martini after campaign events, rolling up his sleeves and talking strategy.

Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report from Richmond.

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