- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2008

After five terms in the Senate, service in two wars and in his third marriage at age 81, John W. Warner still retains the unbent posture and bearing of the Marine he once was.

When the Virginia Republican took his seat in the Senate 30 years ago, he was the rakish husband of Elizabeth Taylor with movie-star looks of his own, a gentleman’s drawl and a farm in Virginia horse country. He became “the senator from central casting.”

Age has softened the angular jaw and whitened the dramatic shock of hair that for decades made him Virginia’s most globally recognizable face.

But Mr. Warner’s blue blazer fits his lean frame more crisply than most men half his age could hope for.

Amid framed photos and paintings, hundred of books and other mementos soon to be boxed and moved from his Senate office, Mr. Warner recently discussed his political career and what he sees as a dangerous future for Western democracies as they confront global terrorism.

He said instinct and some disappointment in the Republican Party told him it was time to go.

“I’m in good health today - strong, vigorous - but I cannot and could not have gone to the people of Virginia in a campaign and said I’m going to be just as strong when I’m 88,” Mr. Warner said of not seeking another six-year term.

Life after the Senate will be full and not too far from Capitol Hill, Mr. Warner predicted. There will be rose bushes to tend with wife Jeanne Vander Myde at their home just outside the District. And there is Mr. Warner’s passion for painting. Or duty could call, again. The former Armed Services Committee chairman could serve in an advisory role to a new president confronting the threat of terrorism.

“It has me greatly worried,” Mr. Warner said. “It’s so different from when I started out.”

His political career started in 1969 when college friend Linwood Holton was elected Virginia’s first Republican governor.

“I was a part of that campaign and got interested in politics,” Mr. Warner said.

Before then, he had served in the Navy in World War II and as a Marine in Korea, and the military had a big influence on him. But from Mr. Holton’s election on, the two would anchor the Virginia Republican Party in the last third of the 20th century.

Mr. Warner’s political start also was rooted in tragedy. In 1978, he and Mr. Holton were half of the four-man Republican field in that year’s U.S. Senate race. They lost to Richard Obenshain - who was killed several weeks later in a plane crash. Mr. Warner became the nominee and won the seat that fall over Andrew Miller, a Democrat.

During that time Mr. Warner befriended Henry Doggett, of Surry County, who became his driver and a first-person source about the private John W. Warner. Mr. Doggett has a rich collection of anecdotes about the sometimes headstrong senator defined by his years in the Navy and Marines.

He tells the story of a cold February night in 1992 when he was driving Mr. Warner to his 2,400-acre farm near Middleburg. Mr. Doggett said that in the rural darkness Mr. Warner told him to turn right, then right again down a back road, then right again.

“And that’s when I say, ‘Senator, we’re going in a circle,’ ” Mr. Doggett recalls. They still laugh about the episode today.

Mr. Warner said he hardly recognizes the Republican Party and that it now appears to have little interest in moderates like him and Mr. Holton.

In 1987, he felt the wrath of the party base when he opposed Judge Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and again in 1994 when he spurned Republican Oliver L. North’s bid in the Virginia U.S. Senate race to unseat Sen. Chuck Robb, a Democrat.

George Allen, a darling of the right, diverged from Mr. Warner several times on national policy when they represented Virginia in the Senate. But their differences, Mr. Allen said, made no difference. “He really is like an uncle to me,” Mr. Allen said.

In November, Democrat Mark Warner (no relation) finally won Mr. Warner’s Senate seat after trying unsuccessfully a dozen years earlier. When the 111th Congress convenes Jan. 6, Virginia will be represented by two Democrats for the first time since 1970.

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