- - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sen. Mark R. Warner calls himself a “radical centrist,” but he has compiled a voting record over his five years in the U.S. Senate that’s anything but “centrist.” We won’t argue with “radical.” His amiable demeanor masks support for President Obama’s not-so-centrist agenda that paints a broad smile on Mr. Obama’s face.

By casting the crucial 60th vote for Obamacare, opposing a constitutional amendment to guarantee a balanced budget and voting to preserve the death tax, Mr. Warner has been a reliable friend of the administration and its radical agenda. Now that he’s facing re-election this fall, Mr. Warner is looking for opportunities to buck his party for the sake of appearance, but only if it won’t make an actual difference.

But now the plot thickens. Ed Gillespie, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, has announced that he will take on Mr. Warner in November. A frequent guest on the Sunday talk shows, Mr. Gillespie brings high name recognition and ready access to the campaign cash required to make a competitive race. This gives him a crucial advantage over the two Fairfax Republicans who have announced as candidates. Mr. Gillespie’s entry prompted the nonpartisan Cook Political Report to change its assessment of Virginia from a dark-blue Democratic lock to a pale shade of uncertain blue. Mr. Gillespie should know what to do to make this an even contest. He knows it won’t be easy.

Few challenges are more difficult than unseating an incumbent with access to the federal purse and the advantages of office. However, Virginians, once the Warner record is clearly drawn, aren’t likely to appreciate an Obama “yes man” further representing them in the Senate. According to Congressional Quarterly, Mr. Warner did the president’s bidding 97 percent of the time. He has never shouted anything but “aye” for any judge, czar or other nominee put forward by the White House, no matter how extreme.

Mr. Warner has toed the party line as enforced by Harry Reid only slightly less often, at just under 90 percent. He’s certainly no party-defying “maverick” in the mold of chronic aisle-crossers like Sens. John McCain or Susan M. Collins.

Mr. Gillespie wants to lead Virginia in a different direction. “I’m running for the Senate because the American dream is being undermined by policies that move us away from constitutional principles of limited government and personal liberty,” he says.

Mr. Warner’s crucial vote in favor of Obamacare will be central in the campaign, especially considering certain false assurances he gave to Virginia. “Let me make clear,” Mr. Warner said in 2009, “I’m not going to support a health care reform plan that’s going to take away health care that you’ve got right now or health care that you like.”

When Ed Gillespie got into the race, Mr. Warner hurried out with a plea to Virginians “to rehire me to … get our fiscal house in order.” But he has already failed to deliver on that. The National Republican Senatorial Committee notes Mr. Warner voted for the Democrats’ 2014 budget bill that called for adding more than “$7 trillion to the debt and [raising] taxes almost $1 trillion” over the next 10 years.

Mr. Warner’s faux centrism has worked so far because nobody has called him on it. Now that’s changed. Mr. Warner can expect a demand for a full accounting of his record, with the consequences.

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