- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Six-and-a-half months from the November elections, no Senate seat looks likelier to change hands than the one held by retiring Sen. John Warner, Virginia Republican. The Old Dominion’s changing demographics, the popularity of frontrunner and former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, a huge fund-raising advantage for Mr. Warner over his Republican rival Jim Gilmore (also a former governor), a contested Republican primary five weeks from now and likely high Democratic turnout combine to make this seat the Senate’s likeliest to turn from “red to blue.” Is Virginia ready?

A majority of poll respondents certainly think so. In the most recent Rasmussen Reports phone survey, Virginians favored Mr. Warner over Mr. Gilmore 55 percent to 39 percent. That follows a 57-37 finding a month earlier. Mr. Warner wallops his Republican rival among independents by a 65-21 margin; he also enjoys higher favorability ratings (65 percent favorable/32 percent unfavorable) than Mr. Gilmore (51 percent/42 percent). The “Warner Democrat” brand is alive and well.

The same is also true of donors to the respective campaigns: They love Mr. Warner. This year, he is enjoying a deluge of political money while Mr. Gilmore trails well behind — by a nearly 9-to-1 margin. Republicans have tended to point to Democratic Sen. James Webb’s money lag in 2006 as evidence that grit, lucky breaks and candidate fitness can help an underdog surpass financial disadvantages. That argument is as defensive as the Jim Webb-George Allen race was unusual.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gilmore has faced difficulty even in sewing up Virginia conservatives, to say nothing of his reach into the center. Unanticipated pressure from the right has materialized in the form of Prince William County Republican Delegate Bob Marshall, a staunch abortion foe who will challenge Mr. Gilmore for the nomination at the state party convention on May 31. Mr. Marshall has roused a number of anti-tax conservatives and social conservatives whom Mr. Gilmore needs to compete.

The Warner juggernaut is truly impressive: It rides demographics, fund-raising, candidate appeal and Republican disarray as it sets its sights on November.

Where it leaves state pro-lifers, social conservatives and fiscal conservatives, though, is in the lurch. Even many liberals agree that both Mr. Webb and Mr. Warner only “fit” Virginia because of it their unorthodoxies: Mr. Webb on gun rights, select social issues and veterans, Mr. Warner on favorable fiscal stewardship as governor. Now we’re looking at the prospect of a second senator who shuts out a good number of traditionally Republican constituencies.

Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Pennsylvania are four politically competitive states that traded a Republican senator for a Democratic one in 2006 in hopes of going “moderate.” Three of the four the aspirants ran as “unorthodox” Democrats or moderates like Mr. Warner. Their record in office is not “moderate” but liberal. The National Taxpayers Union gives Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill a “D” rating for 2007 and “F’s” for Montana Sen. Jon Tester, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey. The Eagle Forum gave the pro-life Mr. Casey a paltry 23 percent rating. Only Mr. Tester breaks 50 percent (52) in the Eagle Forum’s view.

As these states would attest, the “moderate” can be quite elusive.

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