- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008

Virginia Democrats will gather in the Hampton Roads region this weekend for a convention that will serve more as a party pep rally than a referendum on leadership.

Roughly 2,000 delegates are expected to attend the 2008 State Convention in Hampton, where the party will adopt a platform, pick appointments to the Democratic National Convention in August and select representatives to the electoral college and Democratic National Committee.

While state Republicans last month used their convention in Richmond to pick a new party chairman and a candidate for the U.S. Senate race, Virginia Democrats will most likely focus their attention on future efforts, including helping Mark Warner - the party’s only candidate - win the Senate race.

“It’ll be a little bit of a contrast in our approach from the Republican Party,” said Mr. Warner, a former Virginia governor who will attend the convention with fellow political heavyweights Sen. Jim Webb and Gov. Tim Kaine.

Mr. Warner will run against Republican James S. Gilmore III to replace retiring Sen. John W. Warner, a Republican.

This year, a Democrat also is running in all of the state’s 11 congressional races for the first time in recent history, and the convention comes five months before Virginia is expected to play a key role in the 2008 presidential election.

C. Richard Cranwell, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said the state is poised to place Democrats in office, but party members still must get the word out about their candidates.

“Do I like the current atmosphere? Yes,” Mr. Cranwell said. “Am I certain that it’s going to be like that in November? No, I am not. We’ve got to do what one has to do in terms of running a good campaign.”

The party is hoping to ride a wave that has pushed Democrats to win two straight gubernatorial elections, take over a U.S. Senate seat from Republicans and assume control of the state Senate for the first time in a dozen years.

Charlie Kelly, executive director of Mr. Kaine’s political action committee - Moving Virginia Forward - said the governor will address the convention and likely “ask everyone to look forward and move ahead for November.”

“There’s a real momentum, and I think it’s because there are results-oriented leaders that we’ve elected at all levels of government in Virginia, and Democratic leadership is really working hard for all of Virginia’s families,” he said.

Mr. Warner, who left the governor’s office with approval ratings of roughly 70 percent and presents a formidable challenge for Mr. Gilmore, hopes to capitalize on the Democrats’ momentum in the state and win further political support.

He won endorsements this week from two retired Republican state legislators who led powerful budget-writing committees during his term: former state Sen. John H. Chichester and former Delegate Vincent F. Callahan.

“At the end of the day, most Virginians are less interested in your party label and more interested in showing that you can govern,” Mr. Warner said. “I think that we’ve shown that some of the folks on the other side … have been the official party of saying ‘No.’ ”

Virginia also is considered a battleground state in this year’s presidential elections for presumptive nominees Sen. John McCain, a Republican, and Sen. Barack Obama, a Democrat. The convention comes as party members attempt to make Mr. Obama the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Virginia since 1964.

Mr. Kaine, Mr. Warner and Mr. Webb all have been mentioned as potential vice president picks. Mr. Cranwell said the convention also will serve as a way for supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential bid to unite with Obama supporters to turn the state blue.

“I think after you go through a historic, spirited primary like the Democratic Party went through, there always is a reconciliation process that takes place,” he said. “I think the convention will be a part of that process.”

Convention-related activities begin Friday and include a poolside party, which Mr. Webb is expected to attend as a special guest.

The convention officially kicks off at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Hampton Roads Convention Center, and will include a “Battleground Virginia” panel discussion, VIP reception and hospitality suites, including one hosted by state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, who is running for governor.

Mr. Kaine also is a featured guest at a Unity Celebration Reception Saturday evening.

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