Sen. John Warner walked by my office last week. We’re right next to the Rotunda at UVa. He walked like — as — an old man. His wife was at his side, helping him along. He shuffled a bit. I did a mental triple-take when I spotted him, thinking that’s Sen. Warner, then no, that’s an old man, followed by wow, Sen. Warner is an old man.
By the time he made his way to the podium on the front steps of the Rotunda, the few hundred of us watching him felt quite certain what his announcement would be. He’d be nearly ninety at the end of a sixth term. The man simply didn’t look like he had it in him. When he finally stated his intentions, there was no ripple of surprise in the crowd, no murmur of comment. We’d all figured it out.
And now, of course, is the question of who will succeed him.
I’m not terribly interested in the matter of which person will be elected, at least not at the moment. I’m interested in which party will be elected.
Rep. Tom Davis is the presumed Republican nominee at this point. He’s basically been running for this seat for the past couple of years now, he’s got a million bucks raised, and it’s said that Warner would support him. Rep. Davis is rather a liberal Republican, as is necessary to get elected in his swath of Northern Virginia. The idea that the party would nominate him is more than a little startling. The RPV has been moving ever farther to the right, to their enormous detriment, causing them to steadily lose their majority in the General Assembly. Nominating him would be a marked reversal in that trend.
The DPVA, on the other hand, has been wisely encouraging centrist candidates to run, following the model established by Gov. Mark Warner and Gov. Tim Kaine after him. We’ve lost a great deal of ideological ground in doing so, but we’re getting more guys on our team in office in the process, so it’s well worth it. We run candidates to the right of our party because we know that these candidates best represent the electorate, and give us the best shot at victory.
So what to make of Davis as the Republican nominee? I’d see it as a tacit concession by the RPV that their party is far, far to the right of most Virginians, and that they, too, must run candidates who are closer to the center than their own party loyalists. Davis as nominee would mark a sea change for a party that has been giddy with power in the brief decade that they’ve had it, and show that they’re not going to go without a fight.
No doubt more than a few candidates will emerge to challenge him. Jim Gilmore, George Allen and Virgil Goode are all being encouraged to run, and they all have the conservative credentials that make them a real alternative to Davis. Whether the rank and file will have the good sense to reject those alternatives remains to be seen.