Monday, July 2, 2007

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner has been reticent about his political future since leaving office a year and a half ago, but now sounds poised for a return to public life.

“I think I’ve got a voice that I would like to get back engaged in public service, and whether that is the direction of the U.S. Senate or whether that is the direction of the governorship, I have yet to make a determination,” Mr. Warner, a Democrat, told The Washington Times last week.

Mr. Warner, 52, said he has been courted by state and national Democrats, including some who are pushing him to run for the Senate next year.

“I have received those urgings, but I have also received an awful lot of urgings about taking another crack at the governorship,” he said.

Mr. Warner said he will have a better idea after Sen. John W. Warner, a Republican who also holds high popularity in the commonwealth, announces in September whether he will seek a sixth term next year.

“I have enormous respect for Senator Warner, and it would be hard for me to imagine” challenging him, he said.

By most accounts, Mr. Warner, 80, is leaning toward retirement but is delaying his decision in order to give Rep. Thomas M. Davis III a chance to mount a campaign ahead of any other Republican.

Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax Republican, said a race pitting the former governor against Mr. Davis would be a “battle royale.”

Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said, “Tom Davis is going to run, and Tom would be a formidable candidate.”

Other Virginia Democrats want Mr. Warner at the top of the ticket to bolster the party’s chances in the 2009 elections when state delegates, the attorney general and the lieutenant governor seats are up for election.

“Mark is extremely popular, not just in Northern Virginia, but across the state,” said Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat. “I want him to run for governor.”

Mr. Warner’s 2001 election in a Republican state gave national Democrats hope in the South, wooing rural voters with a bluegrass campaign tune and a NASCAR sponsorship. He remained popular despite pushing a $1.38 billion tax package through Virginia’s Republican-controlled legislature in 2004.

Mr. Warner left the governor’s office in 2006 with a nearly 80 percent approval rating and bolstered his credentials even more by helping his lieutenant governor, Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, win the governor’s race in 2005.

Even after leaving office, he used his influence with voters last fall to help James H. Webb Jr., a Democrat, upset Sen. George Allen, a Republican.

Some say that popularity makes Mr. Warner unbeatable in Virginia.

“Ronald Reagan could come to life and run against Mark Warner in Virginia, and he ain’t going to beat him,” said Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, a Democratic strategist who worked on Mr. Warner’s campaign for governor in 2001 and now works on the presidential campaign of former Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat.

Mr. Warner also has been mentioned as a vice-presidential candidate. His presence on the ticket could improve Democrats’ chances of winning Virginia’s 13 electoral votes that President Bush captured in the past two elections.

Mr. Warner briefly explored a White House bid of his own but surprised state and national Democrats when he announced that he would not run for president next year so he could spend more time with his wife and three daughters.

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