Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia is expected to announce today whether he will seek re-election next year, a decision that will have a ripple effect on the state’s political landscape.
Speculation about the 80-year-old five-term senator retiring ballooned this spring after filings with the Federal Election Commission showed he had raised only $500 during the first quarter of the year. Mr. Warner has raised $72,000 since the 2006 elections. Also, Susan Magill, who was Mr. Warner’s chief of staff for 18 years, resigned last year.
Adding to that, the National Republican Senatorial Committee representatives traveled to Richmond last week to get opposition research from the state Republican Party on former Gov. Mark Warner, who told The Washington Times earlier this year he was being courted by state and national Democrats to run for the Senate next year.
“It was an unexpected visit,” said Shaun Kenney, a spokesman for state party. “It certainly wasn’t a house call.”
John W. Warner, who will make his announcement in Charlottesville, has been tight-lipped about his political future, only saying: “I am seriously considering running again for the Senate and am listening to a wide range of Virginians, from the man and woman on the street to my colleagues in the halls of Congress.”
Should Mr. Warner retire, Republicans predict the political “dominos will start to fall” as centrists and conservative members of the party jockey to replace him.
“It’s a big decision for those individuals who are waiting to see if they want to be a candidate for a very important office,” said John H. Hager, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia and former lieutenant governor. “It impacts our plans as a party as well.”
After Sen. George Allen’s loss to Democrat James H. Webb Jr. last fall, Republicans said they need to field a candidate who can succeed in the Democratic-leaning suburbs of Northern Virginia.
Mr. Warner has had a shaky relationship with conservatives, in part because of his opposition to the Reagan administration’s Supreme Court nomination of federal Judge Robert Bork in 1987 and his support of an independent candidate against Republican Oliver North in his 1994 run for Virginia’s other Senate seat.
The senator also favors some gun control and supports abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research. He also drew some criticism last week when he said the United States should begin withdrawing 5,000 troops from Iraq by Christmas to pressure the Iraqi government to move toward political reconciliation.
Heading into today’s announcement, many have suggested that the reason why Mr. Warner kept quiet about his plans was to give Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, time to mount a campaign ahead of any other Republican.
“There has been considerable discussion about the possibility that [Mr. Warner] might delay an announcement of candidacy, then announce he wasn’t going to run, to allow Congressman Tom Davis to build up at the beginning of the campaigns, which would give Davis an advantage,” Virginia’s Republican National Committeeman Morton C. Blackwell told The Washington Times earlier this year.
Yesterday, Mr. Davis said, “I hope tomorrow Senator Warner announces he is seeking re-election,” and “that would be good news for Virginians and all Americans.”
Mr. Warner’s resignation likely would lead to a tough intraparty battle to replace him. That contest would begin with the Republican State Central Committee, which would decide as early as October between selecting its nominee through a Republican primary or a convention, which many say favors a conservative candidate.
Mr. Davis has said he would run for the seat should Mr. Warner retire. He continued to raise his profile this week with a swing through the more conservative southern parts of Virginia.
“Tom has been very active in southside and southwest Virginia,” said Tucker Watkins, chairman of the 5th Congressional District Committee. “I think there are three or four people who can run for that Senate seat, but I think Tom Davis has spent more time working in more parts of Virginia in the last eight or nine years than the others have.”
Former Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican who recently ended his bid for his party’s nomination for the 2008 presidential race, said he is “certainly interested” in running.
“I have people across the state urging me to run for the Senate if he does not run, so we shall see,” Mr. Gilmore said. “I am satisfied that if I decide to run I will be the nominee.”
Other potential replacements for Mr. Warner include Kate Obenshain Griffin, former chairwoman of the state Republican Party. Republican Reps. Randy J. Forbes, Robert W. Goodlatte and Eric Cantor also have expressed interest in Mr. Warner’s seat.