NEWS- Mark him absent: Sabato mourns Warner race exit

Before Mark Warner set the political world reeling by leaving the race for the presidency, he gave a heads-up to UVA professor Larry Sabato, who admits to profound disappointment.

"This is a tragedy for Democrats, and maybe the rest of us," Sabato 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."

The popular former governor made his announcement on Thursday, October 12, in a small room inside Richmond's Jefferson Hotel. Long seen as a frontrunner for the 2008 Democratic nomination, Warner said he made up his mind the previous weekend when celebrating his father's 81st birthday and touring colleges with his oldest daughter.

"This is not a choice that was made based on whether I would win or lose," he read from a prepared statement. "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 his phone conversation with Warner shortly before the press conference, he believes the story.

"It's clear from our talk that this decision was made entirely for personal reasons," says Sabato. "He wants a life, and he cares about his family."

Since Warner had been spending a lot of time in states important to winning his party's nomination like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, and had 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," says Sabato. "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."

On the day of his announcement, 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 shocked even those close to the former governor. Charlottesville area resident Jim Murray, Warner's friend and business partner with whom he founded Columbia Capital Corporation, says Warner informed him of his decision late Wednesday afternoon.

"I was surprised," says Murray, "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 meeting with Warner "a few months ago" in Albemarle County when Warner expressed some 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."

As for whether the popular Democrat could 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 suggests 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," he says. "I think he'd be very valuable to the United States if he did do something international." 

As Warner's announcement proves, there are no sure things in politics, but Murray says, "I don't think he's done with politics at all. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he didn't remain active in national politics for many years to come."

 As for the Democrats, Warner may be leaving a void. "He is exactly the kind of centrist the country needs to bring us together," says Sabato. "There's no logical person to replace him."

Former governor Mark Warner shocked the political world with his October 12 announcement