Thursday, November 17, 2005

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner has gone live with a Web site that describes the Democrat as if he were a presidential candidate and outlines plans for a “kick-off” gala next month.

Mr. Warner, who will speak to state Democrats in New Hampshire today, appeals to moderate voters on his new site,

“The real issues we face are no longer right versus left or conservative versus liberal,” Mr. Warner states on the site. “They’re about past versus future. Our challenge, as Democrats, is to reclaim our role as the party of the future.”

Mr. Warner, who is barred by the Virginia Constitution from seeking a second term as governor, has been coy about whether his plans for higher office but has formed the leadership PAC to explore his options.

The 50-year-old governor also has recently appeared on national talk shows, where he fielded questions on issues such as the war in Iraq.

On Sunday, Mr. Warner appeared on the CBS show, “Face the Nation,” where he was asked if he would have voted in favor of the war in Iraq had he been a U.S. senator in 2003. Mr. Warner said that the country should move forward on the issue.

“I think what we continue to see is the fact that not all the senators had all the information,” he told “Face the Nation.” “I think the Democratic Party ought to get over refighting how we got into the war and, again, continue to press the president on what he hopes to do in terms of how we will finish the job.”

Mr. Warner also told “Face the Nation” that the United States must keep the Sunnis involved in government and Iraqis involved in reconstruction efforts. He also noted he does not think the United States should set an “arbitrary” timeline for withdrawal.

During the interview, he declined to say whether he is running for president, but noted he wants to be “part of the debate.”

Mr. Warner is popular in Virginia. A recent poll conducted by Rasmussen Reports showed that Mr. Warner had a 72 percent approval rating in Virginia.

His fans in Virginia are counting on a presidential bid. He was cheered by party activists to chants of “O8, O8!” at the victory party for Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine on Election Day.

The Web site, which features a blog and a Warner speech titled “Winning Back the White House,” plays off one of the common themes he evokes in his speeches: reaching out to the “sensible center.”

Mr. Kaine’s victory last week gave Mr. Warner enough of a platform to go live with the site, on which he congratulates his successor.

“In Virginia, Democrats have changed the political dynamic, and together we now have the opportunity to bring change throughout the nation,” Mr. Warner said.

One of Mr. Warner’s signature measures passed during his four-year term was a $1.38 billion tax increase that he calls “budget reform.”

The tax package, passed by the Republican-controlled legislature, increased the state sales, cigarette and real estate transaction taxes to offer more funding for education, public safety and health care. The package also cut the food tax and income taxes for the poorest Virginians, and prompted Wall Street to preserve Virginia’s prized AAA bond rating.

In his speeches, Mr. Warner often reminds people that Virginia was named the “Best Managed State” in the nation by Governing magazine after the tax increase was instituted.

Anti-tax Republicans in the House of Delegates don’t agree with Mr. Warner’s assessment, particularly now that the state has a more than $2 billion surplus.

“Perhaps I have a different definition of what it means to be fiscally moderate, but I’m not sure how forcing through the biggest tax increase in the history of the commonwealth … can be defined as fiscal moderation or fiscally conservative,” said Delegate Bill Janis, Goochland Republican. “One shouldn’t let your reach exceed your grasp.”

Mr. Warner will be busy until his last day in office. Inauguration Day in Virginia is Jan. 14.

Mr. Warner is expected to appear at the “Forward Together Kick-Off Event” at the Ritz Carlton in Tysons Corner Dec. 6. His birthday is Dec. 15.

Mr. Warner’s political adviser Mame Reiley called it the “first big event” of the PAC, which was formed last summer.

Last night, Mr. Warner was in Boston and today he will visit with state Democrats in New Hampshire, a key early state for the presidential primaries. Next month, he will travel to Florida and will headline the Winter Dinner of the Gridiron Club in the District.

Mr. Warner, who became a millionaire in the telecommunications industry in the 1990s, began establishing nationwide credentials last year as chairman of the National Governors Association.

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