- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2007

Two weeks into Democrat Mark Warner’s U.S. Senate bid, national Republicans have started a Web site challenging his record as Virginia’s governor.

“Make no mistake about it, Mark Warner is a politician who can’t be trusted to keep his promises to voters,” said Rebecca Fisher, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The party is not expected to decide for several months on a candidate for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. John Warner, but officials already have gone online with the site challenging the former governor on the $1.38 billion tax package he ushered through the General Assembly in 2004 after vowing in 2001 not to increase taxes.

A Web site administered by the NRSC at www.dontmarkwarner.com reads, “Mark Warner PROMISED ‘I Will Not Raise Taxes’ — But he broke that promise. How many more promises will he break?”

Political observers say the challenge underscores Mr. Warner’s new political reality: This is the first time he is running on his record as governor.

“He has a legacy now and he has a record,” said Chris LaCivita, a Republican strategist working for Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, who may oppose Mr. Warner for the Senate seat. “He has never been in a campaign where it has been taken to him from day one.”

Former Gov. James S. Gilmore III, who consistently calls Mr. Warner’s tax package “unnecessary,” also is expected to campaign for the Republican nomination for the Senate seat. Both Mr. Gilmore and Mr. Davis have said they will announce whether they have decided to run after the Nov. 6 general election, when all 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for grabs.

Democrats dismiss the criticism, saying Republicans are agonizing over facing Mr. Warner, who left office with a nearly 80 percent approval rating, and the prospect of Democrats controlling both of Virginia’s Senate seats for the first time since 1970.

Mr. Warner has written off the challenges to his gubernatorial record as the “politics as usual” that Virginians detest.

“It’s not an hour into the campaign and the Washington attack machine is already shooting salvos over the river at us,” Mr. Warner told The Washington Times earlier this month. “That’s why people hate politics. They are sick of that stuff, and I am so anxious to talk about our record in Virginia.”

The tax package also has hurt Republicans, who controlled the General Assembly when the plan was passed, leading to party infighting and bruising primary challenges.

Some Republican strategists think Mr. Warner — who ran in 2001 as pro-gun, supported parental notification on abortion and as a fiscal conservative — got off easy in the gubernatorial race because his opponent waited too long to air a television ad accusing the wealthy Alexandria businessman of wanting to raise taxes.

While the ad did not lead to a victory then, it generated the “I will not raise your taxes” pledge that Republicans plan to use against him through the November 2008 election.

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