Between jobs: Is unemployment Warner's ace?

PHOTOS BY JEN FARIELLO JEN@READTHEHOOK.COM

In three weeks, Mark Warner will be back on the job market.

Not that he'll be in any rush to find something– indeed, it's a safe bet that the Virginia Democrat will be more than willing to bide his time until the right opportunity comes along.

Say, in 2008.

"I don't have any timeline on when I'll make a decision," Warner says. "I want to take a little time after I'm done in January to take a breath. There are a lot of things I still have to learn if I'm going to consider this next step."

The "next step," of course, is running for the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination. Warner is considered one of the top potential candidates for the party's nod– neck-and-neck with early frontrunner Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), 2004 vice-presidential nominee John Edwards, and former Tennessee senator, vice president, and 2000 presidential nominee Al Gore.

Warner's credentials as a successful Southern governor potentially position him to emerge at the head of the pack– much like Clinton's husband, Bill, a former Arkansas governor, did in 1992, and Jimmy Carter, a former Georgia governor, did in 1976.

The fact that Clinton and Carter are the last two Democrats to win the White House is one reason Warner has become a media darling on the national scene.

"The Democratic Party has long thought that its success is dependent on some support in the South," says Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington.

Warner's disadvantage at this point in the walkup to '08 is his relatively low name recognition nationally, Farnsworth says.

That's where the imminent free time should come in handy.

"The presidential-nomination system favors the unemployed or the underemployed over the fully employed," Farnsworth says.

Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean used that strategy to ride to the top of the polls early in the 2004 Democratic presidential-nomination campaign. The former Vermont governor snagged the frontrunner title early, before faltering in Iowa and New Hampshire.

"Although their ideologies are very different, the strategy Howard Dean employed could be the strategy Mark Warner employs," says Farnsworth. "Basically camp out in Iowa and New Hampshire and go door to door, church supper to church supper, to make himself a household name in those states."

It might also do Warner well to find a cause he can associate himself with– much as Edwards has done with his work as director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at UNC and with his own One America Committee.

"What Warner should do is become active in the party and find some cause he tie his name to, something that can give him the national exposure that he needs," says Quentin Kidd, a political-science professor at Christopher Newport University.

Kidd also advises Warner to consider "spending at least some of his time working for Democratic candidates, flying around the country campaigning, raising money.

"He has to get down in the trenches and work for some of these candidates," Kidd adds.

"He has to be really careful about how he positions himself to remain in the spotlight," Kidd says. "Luckily for him, he has the money to do it. It's one thing if you don't have the resources. It's another thing if you have the resources, and you can make yourself visible. He's going to have to find a way to do that."

Warner, for his part, sees his pending unemployment as a double-edged sword.

"On the one hand, you have more time," he says. "On the other, you're not day-to-day in the debate on the issues."

That said, Warner says he "couldn't imagine being a sitting governor and actually running for national office."

"Unlike a senator who can plop in and out of debates, as a governor, you have to actually get stuff done," he says.

Warner toyed with the idea of running for Republican Sen. George Allen's seat in 2006 before deciding to focus his political energies elsewhere.

"I know there have been people who have run– Gov. Bush, Gov. Clinton– from that position," Warner says. "But in my mind, it would be a real challenge to run nationally if you were actually a sitting governor."

In addition to setting aside some time to catch his breath, Warner is working out the details of a pre-White House itinerary that includes some study time and some travel.

The early returns on that end are looking promising, to hear Warner tell it.

"One of the things I've noticed as I've started to travel a little bit, even in places like California, New York and other places where the centrist, results-oriented, pragmatic approach we've tried to take might not get much traction," Warner says, "is that it's amazing how much people across the country want to look at policymakers who can say they can actually get stuff done.

"In Washington, that's the antithesis of what we see, that nothing gets done other than the kind of gotcha-style politics," he says. "Where else can you make a career out of doing nothing other than making the other guys look bad and have that be a successful outcome?"

"I do think that people are hungry for results-driven rather than pure ideologically driven policy," Warner says.

Chris Graham is the co-publisher of The Augusta Free Press.