Former Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner tomorrow is expected to announce his political plans, a decision apparently between running for the U.S. Senate next year and running for the governor’s mansion in 2009.
“The governor will be making his plans public on Thursday,” said Monica Dixon, a Warner spokeswoman.
Mr. Warner, 52, told The Washington Times in June that he planned a return to elected office and that he would have a better idea of his plans after Sen. John W. Warner, a Republican and a friend, announced whether he would seek a sixth term. The men are not related.
“I’ve got a voice that I would like to get back engaged in public service, and whether that is the direction of the U.S. Senate or whether that is the direction of the governorship, I have yet to make a determination,” Mr. Warner said at the time.
People close to Mr. Warner say he has not made a final decision but seems to be favoring a Senate bid after Virginia’s senior senator announced last week that he would retire at the end of his term.
“I personally believe he is leaning toward the Senate … and I think he should run for the Senate,” said Steve Jarding, one of the masterminds behind Mr. Warner’s successful gubernatorial bid in 2001.
Should he run for Senate, Mr. Warner would likely face Rep. Thomas M. Davis III or former Gov. James S. Gilmore III, both Republicans.
Should Mr. Warner chose to run for governor in 2009, he would likely run against Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell or Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, two Republicans who have expressed their interest in the job.
Mr. Warner, who left the governor’s office with a nearly 80 percent popularity rating, won the 2001 election in part by wooing voters with a bluegrass campaign tune and a NASCAR sponsorship.
Despite pushing through a $1.38 billion tax package in 2004, Mr. Warner’s popularity skyrocketed. That year, he was considered a potential vice-presidential contender.
Mr. Warner further bolstered his credentials when he helped his lieutenant governor, Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, win the governor’s race in 2006. Last year he campaigned with Sen. James H. Webb Jr., a Democrat, crisscrossing the state en route to an upset victory over Sen. George Allen, a Republican.
While political observers say Mr. Warner would be considered the early favorite in either race, he would not be a shoo-in.
“He has never been challenged from Day One in a competitive campaign,” said Chris LaCivita, a Republican strategist who is helping Mr. Davis prepare for a potential Senate bid.
Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican, said the tax package would come back to haunt Mr. Warner because Northern Virginia residents — a key Democratic voting bloc — would be reminded about the financial effect it had on their daily lives.
“No one has really ever taken him to task about his record,” Mr. Albo said. “I don’t think everything he did as governor is as great as his myth.”