Warner to reveal political future at UVA
4:11pm update: Former chair of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and close Warner associate Forrest Marshall says the senator has discussed his future extensively with him over the last several months and that Warner himself probably doesn't know what he'll announce tomorrow.
"I've got a feeling he still isn't sure," Marshall says. "One day he thinks [running for re-election] is what he wants to do, and the next day he thinks he's too old." Should Warner walk away from a run at a sixth term, Marshall says he doesn't see the UVA Law alum relocating to Charlottesville: "He just built that new home of his in Arlington, but he'll continue coming here because he likes to bird hunt here and likes to play golf."
In this period of uncertainty, Marshall says all that's for sure about his friend's future is the next few days. "He's coming over here tomorrow night for dinner," says Marshall, speaking from his Scottsville farm, "and then we're going bird hunting on Saturday afternoon."
The eyes of the political world will be on Charlottesville tomorrow afternoon when Senator John Warner (R) announces whether he will retire or seek re-election in 2008. The five-term senator has scheduled a press conference for 2pm at the Rotunda.
Anticipating that Virginia's 80-year-old senior senator might not seek another term, successors have been quietly (and some not so quietly) waiting in the wings. Ever since announcing he would not seek the White House in 2008, former Gov. Mark Warner (no relation) has been the Democrats' dream candidate. As of June 30, his political action committee, Forward Together, had $726,695 in cash on hand, every cent of which could be spent in a Senate run.
UVA professor and political pundit Larry Sabato says his sources tell him Mark Warner– who abruptly dumped a presidential bid last year– is far from certain about his potential candidacy. "He has not made a firm decision," says Sabato. "He's having a meeting this afternoon and will announce soon if John Warner retires."
Sabato adds that Gov. Warner isn't just the Dems' best shot at turning Sen. Warner's seat from red to blue, but right now he may be the only one. "I'm not sure who the Democrats have other than him," Sabato says. "One of the Democratic congressmen? There are only three of them, and none are that strong statewide."
On the Republican side, Congressman Tom Davis (R-Springfield) has emerged as an early front-runner for the nomination. "He's already the leading candidate," says Sabato. "He's got a big lead in fundraising and in ground action."
Like Warner, Davis is perceived as a centrist and comes from Northern Virginia– the region that tipped the most recent gubernatorial and senate races in the Democrats' favor. But recent presidential candidate and former Gov. Jim Gilmore has not been shy about his desire to get back into statewide politics and might give Davis a run for the GOP nod.
But according to Sabato, a Gilmore v. Davis campaign is the last thing Republicans want.
"They want to avoid a donnybrook, because the two of them would empty their treasuries and would then start out way behind a candidate like [Mark] Warner," he says.
So what's potentially next for the potentially retiring senator? Some have suggested Warner could return to Charlottesville, where he received his law degree 50 years ago, to head up UVA's newly established Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy for its scheduled fall 2009 opening. "I think that's pretty far-fetched," says Sabato. "That's not something I've heard. If he retires, he'll be a month shy of 82 at the end of his current term. If he leaves, I think he's just going to retire."
If Warner begins his long goodbye tomorrow, Sabato says, Virginians on both sides of the aisle will miss the five-term-senator's presence in Washington as a powerful advocate for the Commonwealth. "Should he retire, Virginia is going to miss his seniority because they're going to miss out on millions of federal dollars."