Miller's time: Can he work Warner's magic?
It worked for Tim Kaine in 2005– but will running on the coattails of Mark Warner work for Harris Miller in 2006?
"I want to have the same a bipartisan approach Gov. Warner used, focusing on real problems and real solutions," Miller says, "not the corrupt special-interest politics which are too common in Washington."
The former president of Arlington's Information Technology Association of America, the lobbying arm of the IT industry, announced in January that he intends to run for the Democratic Party nomination to challenge George Allen.
His candidacy is drawing comparisons to another tech-savvy Northern Virginia businessman who entered the Virginia political scene with a United States Senate campaign– especially after the campaign team he revealed last week (February 28), Miller announces campaign team
Democratic Party Senate candidate Harris Miller unveiled his campaign team on Tuesday - and it looks a lot like what former governor Mark Warner might have put together if he were in the running.
Several of Miller's senior staff worked on Gov. Tim Kaine's 2005 campaign - including communications director Taylor West, Internet-operations guru John Rohrbach, direct-mail consultants Jim Crounse and Alan Moore and general consultant Mo Elleithee.
Elleithee also served on Warner's 2001 gubernatorial campaign - as did pollster Geoffrey Garin.
Campaign manager Andrew Resnick is the only major player in the Miller effort not to have played a role in either of the last two Democratic gubernatorial victories. Resnick was the architect of Del. David Poisson's upset victory of eight-year incumbent Dick Black in Loudoun County last fall.
"As a businessman, I know how important experience is to any team," Miller said in a statement released on Tuesday. "I am pleased to say that my campaign has attracted some of the best talent and experience this state has to offer.
"The campaigns of Gov. Warner and Gov. Kaine have shown us that Democrats win in Virginia when we bring a business-like, results-oriented approach to the real issues that families face every day," Miller said. "With this team in place, I am confident that I can bring my message to Virginia voters and start cleaning up the mess in Washington."
Miller will challenge James Webb for the Democratic Party nomination to run against incumbent U.S. Sen. George Allen in the November election.
"It looks like the Democratic Party is trying to run the same play that propelled Mark Warner to prominence," says Stephen Farnsworth, a political-science professor at the University of Mary Washington.
Miller's similarities to Warner– who himself considered a run at Allen's seat before deciding last summer to focus his energies on a possible run at the White House in 2008– are obvious.
"I'm dissatisfied, and I believe the people of Virginia are dissatisfied, with the direction this country is going," Miller says. "Unless we begin to focus on the real problems in Washington, the way Governor Warner has here in Virginia, we're never going to meet the challenges we face."
Miller is open about how he plans to take a chapter out of Warner's 2001 campaign playbook and run effectively as a Democrat in rural Virginia.
"There's no reason jobs that have gone to India and China can't be right there in Southwest and Southside Virginia," Miller says. "What we need, however, to make those available is access to broadband and retraining and re-education."
Also like Warner, Miller wants to work to bring the Democratic Party back to the political center.
"I haven't seen trust in government so low since the mid-1970s following Watergate," he says. "And frankly, it's both parties. I think the Democrats are viewed more positively right now because they're not in power. But people on both sides have fallen into this trap of engaging in pure partisan politics."
One other point where Miller and Warner agree is fiscal policy.
"We have to get our fiscal house in order in Washington," Miller says, echoing Warner and another centrist Democrat, former president Bill Clinton.
"This country is bankrupt. If it weren't for investors from China and Japan, our biggest competitors, buying our debt each week, the U.S. couldn't even pay its bills," Miller says. "We have to make this a priority. We have to get this country back on a business-like, sound financial footing as soon as possible."
As much as Mark Warner would have been considered by many a favorite to unseat Allen, it will be an uphill battle at best for any Democrat not named Mark Warner to do the same, says James Madison University political-science professor Bob Roberts.
"Allen's numbers are high, and you're going to need a huge amount of money to make a case against him. And since Allen hasn't been involved in any disputes and doesn't seem to have any ethical controversies surrounding him, I don't see how you can make a case against him," Roberts says.
Farnsworth disagrees. He can see a scenario unfolding where Miller or another Democrat can wage an effective challenge against Allen.
"The last governor's race shows that Virginia is not as red a state as many in the South," he says. "The Democratic gains in the legislature, the Democratic governor's victory, and the very close races for attorney general and lieutenant governor, suggest that in the right set of circumstances, Democrats can do very well in Virginia."
"Allen...may have a more serious challenger, in part because of the issues: Iraq, the questions surrounding abortion, the hostility that many Democrats feel toward President Bush. These could all generate high Democratic turnout," Farnsworth says.
It's more likely, though, that Miller will end up following the Warner blueprint and use the name recognition gained from a run at the Senate seat for something else down the road, according to Farnsworth.
Miller, for his part, is insistent that his attention is on the here and now in 2006: "We're going to win this race," he says.
PHOTO BY ANDY WILKINSON