Monday, June 25, 2007


Virginia Sen. John W. Warner has said little about whether he will run for re-election, but the 80-year-old Republican is giving clear indications that he will not return for another term and that his coyness is merely an attempt to help Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a fellow Republican, replace him.

“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,” said Morton C. Blackwell, chairman of the Virginia’s Republican National Committee and leader of the conservative Leadership Institute.

Mr. Warner has so far offered little insight, except to say: “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. I will announce my decision about the Senate race in September.”

Speculation about Mr. Warner retiring increased this spring after filings with the Federal Elections Commission showed he had raised only $500 during the first quarter of the year.

Another indication was the resignation last year of Susan Magill, who was Mr. Warner’s chief of staff for 18 years.

Mr. Warner’s resignation would likely result in a tough political battle to replace him that would begin inside the Republican State Central Committee, which decides how the party will picks its nominee.

Members could choose a convention or a primary election, which would likely benefit a more moderate candidate.

Other potential replacements for Mr. Warner include Kate Griffin, former chairwoman of the state Republican Party, and former Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a conservative currently pursuing a White House bid.

Mr. Warner has had a rocky relationship with conservatives, in part because he opposed the Reagan administration’s Supreme Court nomination of federal Judge Robert Bork in 1987 and because he supported an independent candidate against Oliver North, a Republican, in his 1994 run for Virginia’s other Senate seat. He also favors some gun control and supports abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research.

Republican Reps. J. Randy Forbes of 4th Congressional District, Robert W. Goodlatte of the 6th District and Eric Cantor of the 7th District have also expressed interest in Mr. Warner’s seat and could force colleagues to support one friend over another.

Republicans hope for a candidate who can succeed in Northern Virginia where the party has won too few votes in three straight losses for top statewide office.

“I hope the George Allen election caught the attention of the rest of the state,” said Delegate David Albo, Fairfax County Republican. “Republicans used to say, ‘We are going to win big in the rest of Virginia, and try not to lose bad in [Northern Virginia.]’ But when you have 90,000 people a year moving into [Northern Virginia], eventually that strategy is not going to work.”

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, agreed.

“We have to do better in [Northern Virginia] if we are going to win,” he said.

Davis supporters say their candidate would do well because his 11th District includes Northern Virginia’s Fairfax and Prince William counties.

Conservatives disagree with some of Mr. Davis’ political views, but acknowledge he might be the best candidate in the general election.

Mr. Davis, 58, has been raising his profile among Republicans in the more conservative southern part of Virginia. He has had dinner with party leaders and plans another swing through the region next month.

Such efforts are necessary, considering that the party’s anti-tax conservatives in the primaries June 12 defeated two state Senate incumbents who sided with Democrats in 2004 to pass a $1.38 billion tax increase.

Observers say the results show the strength of Mr. Gilmore and other conservatives who promise to retain the tenets of less government and taxation.

“I think a strong conservative candidate would probably win our nomination,” Mr. Blackwell said.

The Republican winner faces a potential challenge from Mark R. Warner, a Democrat and popular former governor who has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate.

Mr. Albo predicts a Davis vs. Warner race would be a “Battle Royal.”

“It would be like the [World Wrestling Federation] cage match at the end of the year,” he said.

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