Sabato: “a tragedy for Democrats, and maybe the rest of us”
In a move that has set the political world reeling, former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, long seen as a frontrunner for the '08 Democratic presidential nomination, announced at an 11am press conference at Richmond's Jefferson hotel today that he will not run for president.
UVA professor Larry Sabato tells the Hook that when Warner informed him of his decision by phone earlier this morning, the pundit was sorely disappointed. "This is a tragedy for Democrats, and maybe the rest of us," he says. "Warner had a good chance to become the nominee– Hillary Clinton is beatable by the right candidate– and a good chance to become president. He is exactly the kind of centrist the country needs to bring us together. Now, that's not going to happen, and there is no logical person to replace him."
Warner told reporters that he made up his mind this past weekend when he celebrated his father's 81st birthday and toured colleges with his oldest daughter, Madison. The former governor made a point to say that his decision was not based on politics.
"This is not a choice that was made based on whether I would win or lose," he said, reading from a written statement in a small banquet room with over a dozen reporters. "I can say with complete conviction that 15 months out from the first nomination contests, I feel we would have had as good a shot to be successful as any potential candidate in the field."
Sabato says that, based on this morning's conversation with Warner, he believes Warner when he says his family was the deciding factor. "It's clear from our talk that this decision was made entirely for personal reasons," he says. "He wants a life, and he cares about his family."
Since he had been spending a lot of time in states important to winning his party's nomination like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, and raised over $9 million for his Forward Together political action committee, Warner found himself the the man to beat among Democrats not named Hillary Clinton. In Sabato's opinion, Warner's potential as a candidate was a lot more than media hype.
"The campaign was going beautifully," he says. "I've heard as much in 34 states this year and even in the Middle East– where Warner had just visited in June before my own visit. He was raising money hand over fist and had many supporters in the key primary and caucus states."
Even today, Warner was supposed to fly to Des Moines to campaign for Iowa state legislative candidates and meet with Iowa business leaders, according to the Associated Press.
The decision has shocked even those close to the former governor. In his first reported comments on the matter, Jim Murray, Warner's friend and business partner with whom he founded Columbia Capital Corporation, tells the Hook that Warner informed him of his decision late yesterday afternoon and emphasized that "it's final."
"I was surprised," he says, "but he said it was not fair to begin ramping up a big organization unless he was 100 percent committed to running and winning, and he was sure he wanted to commit the next 10 years of his life to that."
Murray recalls a conversation a few months ago at Murray's home in Albemarle County in which Warner expressed ambivalence about a run for the White House. "He and I spent a few hours talking about his plans," Murray says, "and it was clear then that he was undecided and he was going to continue the process of traveling around the United States campaigning for Democrats around the country."
Asked whether the popular Democramight run for John Warner's U.S. Senate seat in 2008 or the Governor's mansion in 2009, Murray says, "I think that door's open. There's a lot he can do, and we've talked about it."
Murray even thinks that Warner could serve the United States in a diplomatic capacity. "My personal opinion is, despite the fact that Mark was viewed as having limited international experience, in fact he's an extremely well-traveled person who speaks a couple of languages and it wouldn't suprise me if he did something international," he says. "I think he'd be very valuable to the United States if he did."
As Warner's announcement proves, there are no sure things in politics, but Murray feels confident that America has not seen the last of Mark Warner. "I don't think he's done with politics at all," he says. "I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he didn't remain active in national politics for many years to come."