Sen. Warner’s seat: The Democrats.

Sen. John Warner’s retirement announcement leaves an open seat, and that’s got Democrats salivating.

James Webb
Jim Webb announces his candidacy at a press conference at the General Assembly Building on March 7, 2006.

It was less than two years ago that the party was having a hell of a time finding somebody to run against freshman Sen. George Allen. Nobody wants to run against an incumbent, of course, but for a long time it looked like Harris Miller would be the only person seeking the nomination. Miller was basically unknown outside of upstate Virginia, and not particularly well known there, either. Thankfully, Jim Webb was persuaded to run, and the rest is history.

So who do we have this time around?

The guy at the top of the list is, of course, Gov. Mark Warner. He blazed the trail that has enabled other Democrats to get elected, and he’ll ultimately receive the lion’s share of the credit for taking back the General Assembly. He’ll beat anybody that Republicans nominate, and he’ll do it without breaking a sweat. He’s richer than Roosevelt, his time spent exploring a run for the presidency made him a boffo campaigner, and he’s adored by the great majority of the voting public.

But there are a couple of important reasons why Warner may well not run for the seat.

First and foremost, the man’s experience is as an executive. He made his millions running Columbia Capital Corp. (and later turned those into millions more by providing the funding for Nextel), and made his reputation running the state. He’s used to being in charge. There’s nothing in his resume that shows that he’s interested in (or would have any aptitude for) being a member of a deliberative body. Other than, of course, running for the same seat a decade ago.

Second, Warner has got to be under enormous pressure to run for governor again. If either Del. Brian Moran or Sen. Creigh Deeds becomes the Democratic nominee, we may or may not win the election, depending on who the Republicans put up. (Deeds has a great shot against whomever. Moran could beat Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, but not so much Bob McDonnell.) If Warner runs for governor again, not only would he win, but he’d have coattails enough to bring the house and the senate back into Democratic hands again, if that doesn’t happen after this November’s election. The element of time factors in here, too. Dems know that redistricting is coming up in January 2011, and we’ve got to have at least one chamber under our control by then in order to block more Republican gerrymandering, but better still to have both chambers and the governor’s office. (That’s ostensibly to put nonpartisan redistricting into place, but I’d put my money on the Dems forgetting all about the non part of that phrase about five minutes after getting the majority.)

Creigh Deeds
Creigh Deeds outside of of a Charlottesville fundraiser in March 2005.

So the scary question for Democrats is this: What’s our plan B?

If Mark Warner doesn’t run, then it’s not clear to me that there is a plan B.

Creigh Deeds is certainly a possibility, although that’s more wishful thinking on my part than anything else. He insists that he’s just not interested in serving in the U.S. Senate. The fact is that it was just two years ago that he ran a brilliant statewide campaign, losing by an agonizing 323 votes to McDonnell. He’s got a loyal and capable staff. He intends to run for governor, and so he’s been out there as a candidate, working hard across the state, so he’s got the benefit of momentum. The buzz among folks more plugged in than I am is that Moran has far more support about power brokers within the party, a benefit of being from upstate, which will make it tough for Deeds to get the nomination in anything other than a primary. This might have Deeds looking for a plan B of his own.

Harris Miller
Harris Miller speaks to the Young Democrats at the University of Virginia on February 15, 2006.

Harris Miller must be mentioned. He ran before, he could well run again. I have no specific reason to think that he’d be interested, but I certainly couldn’t blame him for trying.

After those two long-shot hypotheticals we’re left with fantasy land barrel-scraping, leaving us tossing around names like John Grisham. Though, to be fair, last time such thinking was indulged we ended up with Senator Jim Webb. I don’t doubt people will run; for an open seat, all sorts of folks are bound to do so. But among the obvious candidates, our cup don’t exactly runneth over.

It’s this view of things that makes a Warner candidacy considerably more palatable to Democrats like myself, who believe that it’s crucial that he run for governor. I maintain that it would be better for Democrats and better for Virginia if he returned to the governor’s office. It’s not particularly important to me that the state be represented by a pair of Democrats and, if forced to pick, I’d rather have a Republican in Warner’s seat and a Democrat in the governor’s office than vice versa.

Republicans will have a great deal more competition for their nomination, but we Democrats may well end up with a stronger candidate despite our virtually non-existent bench.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

27 replies on “Sen. Warner’s seat: The Democrats.”

  1. I look forward to the Republican contest. We will have at least two, probably more, very large and very well funded egos going at each other for months. It will be a bloodbath, and I’ll be loving every minute of it.

  2. Waldo–

    What do you think about drafting Gerry Baliles for the Senate seat in the admittedly unlikely event that Warner does not run. He has done great work at the Miller Center, has gravitas and legislative experience–and has achieved the level of “elder statesman.” In short–a perfect successor to Senator Warner.

    I’ve not heard him mentioned–and he may not be interested–but I think he’d fit the role perfectly.

  3. Deeds isn’t going to get the gay and lesbian vote in this state after voting for the marriage amendment after saying he wouldn’t. And that whole GPS tracking idea makes him look foolish and/or facist as well. No disrespect to you for liking him Waldo, but I can’t stand the man myself.

    Now getting a famous author to run is a wonderful idea, I would be so psyched to vote for someone who knows how to write a decent sentence! Let alone a whole book. Grisham, Rita Mae Brown, I don’t care, someone who can write, yay for literacy! :)

    Is there another Jim Webb out there somewhere that we don’t know about?

  4. In my mind, Warner should wait until after the November election; if the Dems win, he has the option to run in the Senate. If they lose, forgetaboutit, run for governor and leave the Senate to other folks.

    That’s my take on it.

  5. Carrington,

    The plain truth of it is that Baliles has been so long gone from politics that most Virginians probably couldn’t even tell you who he is. Creigh Deeds would have a much stronger chance of winning than Baliles.


    I’m sorry to say that the gay and lesbian vote in Virginia doesn’t amount to squat. Support for gay rights pretty much anywhere is a net political loser. Which makes it all the more remarkable that so many Democratic party candidates do in fact support gay rights. They’re doing the right thing even though they know it’s going to hurt them. True profiles in courage.

    Democrats win state-wide elections in Virginia when we put up a candidate with strong cross-over appeal to conservatives. Like Mark Warner, Tim Kaine and Jim Webb. Or like Creigh Deeds. A very liberal candidate who is right there with the party base on every traditional left-wing issue will get clobbered in the general election every single time. Nominating someone like Brian Moran or Harris Miller is effectively ceding the race to whomever the Republican nominee is.

    While I would like Creigh Deeds even more if he agreed with me about gay rights, I agree with him about so many other things that I’m hoping to see him become either a Senator in DC or Governor in Virginia in the next few years. Basically whatever seat Mark Warner doesn’t want.

  6. Hey, wait a minute – to hell with it all. If Mark Warner decides not to run for this open Senate seat then we’ll just have to nominate Jim Webb again. We know he can get it done. Jim Webb is twice the man that anyone else in the Senate is, so it only makes sense to give him 2 votes.

  7. What do you think about drafting Gerry Baliles for the Senate seat in the admittedly unlikely event that Warner does not run. He has done great work at the Miller Center, has gravitas and legislative experience–and has achieved the level of “elder statesman.” In short–a perfect successor to Senator Warner.

    I must make the embarrassing admission that I know very little about Gov. Baliles (which is precisely the sort of ignorance that makes many bloggers such poor political analysts). Wilder was the first governor of my memory; I was just seven years old when Baliles took office. In fact, the only two things that I know about the man are a) that he was the last governor to successfully overhaul transportation funding and b) he’s the Miller Center director now.

    That said, yes, Gov. Baliles is precisely the sort of person that I’d like to see run for this seat. For a great many Virginia voters, we’ve developed our template of what a U.S. Senator looks like with Sen. Warner. “Gravitas” and “elder statesman” are apt descriptors of the man, and I have to wonder if the public, in seeking a replacement for Gov. Warner, might not place some additional value on those elements That would certainly make somebody like Baliles an even more attractive candidate.

  8. Don Beyer would be a interested selection, and we’d be improving our bench to get him involved in politics again. I have to agree with other commentors that from a purely analytical perspective, I think we demonstrated rather spectacularly with the DOMA in 2006 that the GLBT lobby is not going to move any election with turnout that pushes into 60 or 70% one way or the other. I will concede that if Sen. Webb had a voting record with gay-marriage baggage, it might have eroded his very-minimal margin of victory, but in truth it wasn’t the gay vote that delivered him a win, it was an obscure racial slur, YouTube and a Republican party that was more than happy to throw Allen under the bus and open up the field for the Presidential nomination that bolstered Webb’s otherwise poor fundraising and some disorganization on the part of his campaign.

    That and the volunteers.

  9. I think Don Beyer wants to be Sec. of Commerce in the Obama administration.

    I don’t think there is any possibility of Harris Miller running again.

    I think either Creigh Deeds or Brian Moran could be elected Governor, I hope Mark runs for Senate.

  10. I am hoping Mark Warner announces he won’t run for senate, which pretty much guarantees Tom Davis will run for senate… once Davis announces, Warner can change his mind and get away with it – whereas Davis will find it harder to back out once committed….

    I am greedy. I want both the Senate seat and the 11th CD seat in the Democratic party in 2008.

  11. All I can say is I’d walk through fire for Don Beyer if he would choose to run in this race. If Alice is right and he hopes for a position in the Obama administration, of course I will root for what he really wants to do…but I have every confidence that he’d go down in history as one of Virginia’s greatest Senators were he to be elected.

  12. Excellent post, Waldo… but for this part:

    and we’ve got to have at least one chamber under our control by then in order to block more Republican gerrymandering

    Let’s play what-if. What if the Democrats win a majority in both chambers this fall, and what if Moran or Deeds becomes governor two years from now.

    Do you honestly believe the Democrats won’t engage in quite a bit of gerrymandering? I’m not really sure which districts you believe were gerrymandered in ’01. The Republicans fixed a couple of grotesque districts in Southside — districts the Dems had stretched hundreds of miles, one even ran from Suffolk to damn near Martinsville before the Republicans fixed it.

  13. I.Publius,

    I don’t think Waldo and you disagree about what would take place. Look at his parenthtical comment:

    (That’s ostensibly to put nonpartisan redistricting into place, but I’d put my money on the Dems forgetting all about the non part of that phrase about five minutes after getting the majority.)

  14. I gotta agree with Harry here. Believe me, I was looking for Waldo to get all warm and fuzzy about a future Virginia where a benign government dominated by Democrats and reminiscent of Camelot outlawed rain on the weekends and gave each child a pony, but he seems to have a rather more reality-based view.

  15. Don Beyer is a guy that I really need to learn more about. Maura, I’ve certainly known you to be a big fan of his, and you’re not the first person to describe this sort of devotion to the man.

  16. Thanks Harry & JS – it’s just hard to reconcile the two: One, The Democrats need to win to prevent Republican gerrymandering. Two, Democrats will probably gerrymander if and when they take control.

    So gerrymandering is ok when one side does it, but not the other? I’d still love to know which districts the Republicans gerrymandered. I’m not saying they didn’t, I’m simply unaware of any real abuses (like the laughable pre-2001 18th Senate district).

  17. Well, if the Democrats end up in control of both houses, the governor’s office and the attourny generalship; they will be far more vulnerable to public pressure not to gerrymander than Republicans are.

    Key differences:
    Democrats would be tenaciously clinging to power in a very conservative state, delicately trying to cement their power without losing public opinion so they can stay in; Republicans have clearly demonstrated that they can ignore public opinion most of the time and Virginia voters will keep re-electing them just because of their party affiliation.

    Democrats, at least in this generation of them, are more concerned about the people.

    Democrats getting elected now have specifically run on a fair and unbiased redistricting plan, not enough have, but several have. Once elected they may try to forget that promise, but there are plenty of bloggers to help them remember now…

  18. I am no longer involved in any partisan activity and no longer live in Virginia, but I did want to set the record straight (so to speak).

    Being anti-gay USED to be the way to go in Virginia, but it actually does cost votes nowadays. While the Virginia Partisans supported the Democratic ticket in 2005, Senator Deeds did have trouble attracting some of the base vote that went to Kaine and Byrne due to some of his more conservative views, including on GLBT equality. In an election that close, it can make a difference. In a Democratic Primary, it can certainly make a difference.

    Here are a few examples:

    – Brad Marrs was considered a shoe-in for re-election in 2005 until a series of articles in the RTD highlighted his comment in a fundraising appeal that now-Delegate Waddell had taken money from a known “homosexual.” Largely due to this story, he lost.
    – Dick Black, perhaps the most consisent opponent of GLBT rights offered anti-gay legislation. In large part due to backing from LGBT groups and supporters, he was routed in a landslide by now-Delegate Poisson
    – Ron Grignol, running against Del. Mark Sickles, attacked then-freshman Del. Sickles for having appeared in a photo with children when he had none of his own. In large part due to this sort of smear campaign, the district went from being a swing district that had featured close delegate races dating back to the days of Gladys Keating to a blowout re-election victory for Sickles.
    – Chris Craddock, after defeating Del. Gary Reese, was considered a strong contender in a historically Republican district–until his comments surfaced that “Christians and gays hate and despise each other.” Now-Delegate Chuck Caputo won in large part due to the fall out from this open bigotry.
    – In a close race in 2003, now-Fairfax Chairman Gerry Connolly seized the momentum and won over then-school board member Mychele Brickner (who had received significant financial support) in large part due to coverage of her history of voting to take books–some dealing with homosexuality—out of public school libraries. Her strongest ally on the board, Rita Thompson (who had also lead the charge against non-discrimination language) lost re-election for her at-large seat for similar reasons.
    – NOT ONE legislator who voted AGAINST the Marshall-Newman constitutional amendment in 2005 lost re-election that year.

    My point is this–regardless of your views on the issue, Virginians in large number (according to every poll) SUPPORT LGBT equality—employment non-discrimination, the right of partners to visit each other in the hospital, the right of GLBT folks to work for the government, etc. In fact, most Virginians polled even SUPPORT civil unions. The days of homophobia being politically helpful would appear to be over.

  19. So gerrymandering is ok when one side does it, but not the other?

    On the contrary, I begin by pointing out the stated purpose of taking the majority now (and my agreement with that purpose) and then express my doubt that the purpose will be lived up to. That’s just good old fashioned skepticism.

  20. Hey Josh, I wish I could agree with you that “The days of homophobia being politically helpful would appear to be over” in Virginia, but how do you reconcile that with the overwhelming victory (60-40%) of Amendment 1 last year? In a year in which Virginia voters were unwilling to return George Allen to the Senate they went out of their way to approve a pretty mean-spirited Con. Amend. that went far beyond its proponents’ stated goal of simply banning gay marriage.

  21. Josh I,

    In Northern Virginia, sure. There are districts where strong support for gay rights make a difference. But we were really talking about state-wide races here. Governor, Senators, etc.

    I have no idea where you’re from and don’t want to make any assumptions about you personally. However, this is a good opportunity for me to say that in general people from Northern Virginia have no clue what the rest of Virginia is really like. NoVa Democrats in particular largely have their heads in the clouds. Between politics and hunting I have found myself in all sorts of neat little corners of Virginia that most of NoVa has no idea even exists. From church picnics in Gloucester to firehouse barbeques in Moneta to gas stations and gun shops in Wise County. I have learned a thing or 2 about Virginia’s political pulse outside of NoVa.

    You have no idea how conservative Virginia really is. Even among Democrats. Formulas for success in NoVa Delegate races have no application whatsoever to state-wide elections in Virginia. I wish that these otherwise very nice people whom I have met and talked with all over Virginia were more supportive of gay rights but they just aren’t. There are scads of these conservative Dems who will say that they support gay rights but when the marriage thing comes up, they will draw the line there.

    We cannot possibly win state-wide elections just by being dominant in NoVa. We have to do very well in NoVa AND have a respectable showing in the rest of the Commonwealth. We don’t always need to get a majority of votes in areas like Southside and Tidewater but we can’t let our losses in those districts get too heavy. There is no electoral college system in Virginia elections. In those rural districts where our candidates get 45%, we can’t let it drop to 40% or we will lose the whole race.

    Unfortunately, there is only one Democratic strategist in Virginia who really grasps this. That being Mudcat. And boy, I wish we could get Steve Jarding back down here for next year’s race if he wasn’t so busy watching Tim Johnson’s back. Jarding is the only guy who knows how to hustle in both NoVa and the rest of Virginia.

  22. Jack,

    You make some valid points. My involvement in VA was statewide. 60% for Marshall-Newman may seem bad, but considering how similar measures did in other states, it was actually closer than many expected. And keep in mind, Webb was the first person to be elected statewide while openly endorsing civil unions (and he didn’t hide it).

    I agree that things are different in NoVA (and some of the urban areas in “ROVA” but I do think that the area even in those areas that are pro-equality is expanding every year. In 2001, you might find strong support for gay rights in Arlington, Alexandria, parts of Fairfax, and Charlottesville. Now, you see it expanding into the rest of Fairfax, into Loudoun, into Prince William, into Albermarle, into Richmond, etc. It has coincided, I suspect, in part with demographic changes but also with the growing nationwide acceptance of gay and lesbian people. That doesn’t mean that a Lynchburg voter is for gay marriage–but it does mean that gay bashing doesn’t go nearly as far as it did even a decade ago.

  23. However, this is a good opportunity for me to say that in general people from Northern Virginia have no clue what the rest of Virginia is really like.

    So can I sign you on for my NOVA Secession from the Commonwealth plan?

  24. Excellent. My recruiting is going well, this week. I thought I’d be making a step forward when I moved here from Georgia, but Richmond makes Georgia look positively progressive. We’ll take Arlington, Alexandria, and Falls Church. Fairfax can vote on it (and would almost certainly come with). My apologies to my brethren left behind.

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