Off to the races

Off to the races

He’s baaaack! After briefly flirting with a presidential run (before telling his shocked supporters "I want to have a real life," and mysteriously dropping out of the race), former Governor Mark Warner has thrown his (tasteful and expensive, you can be assured) hat into Virginia’s Senate-race ring. As was widely expected once his well-respected (but completely unrelated) colleague John Warner opted out of a sixth term, Virginia’s most recent ex-guv decided that, if he couldn’t sit in that nice white building on the north side of the National Mall, he might as well park his keister in the big marble one on the east end.

Is Democrat Mark Warner’s race for U.S. senator already won? Conservative columnist Robert Novak says, "Republicans privately estimate that this will be one of four Senate seats they will lose in 2008."

And so, with Warner in for the Democrats (and no credible primary challenger in sight), all that remains is for the Republicans to sort out their side of the ballot. Barring an unforeseen groundswell of "Draft Macaca!" momentum propelling ex-Senator George Allen into the race, the primary fight looks to be between long-rumored (but maddeningly noncommittal) candidate Tom Davis, the business-friendly 11th District representative from Fairfax, and Mark Warner’s fire-breathing predecessor James Stuart "Car-Tax Killer" Gilmore III. Fresh from a blink-and-you-missed-it run for the Republican presidential nomination, Gilmore has been traveling the state telling anyone who’ll listen that he’s itching to go head-to-head with the guy who befouled his governor’s mansion with obscene, tax-raising shenanigans. And Davis—well, he’s been keeping pretty quiet as of late, but his aggressive fundraising efforts are shouting, "I’m in!" from the Richmond rooftops.

Of course, even before Warner (Mark, not John—pay attention, class!) declared his intentions, both of his (probable) opponents’ spokespeople were trying to scrub the bloom off the rose in the pages of Hampton Roads’ Virginian-Pilot: "This time, he has a record and he’ll be held to it," fumed Chris LaCivita, a Davis advisor; "The free ride is over," declared Dick Leggitt, a Gilmore flunky.

But it looks like these guys will need more than snappy quips to elevate their respective bosses to the U.S. Senate (and not just because Virginia voters have a Pavlovian compulsion to vote for white dudes named "Warner"). According to a Rasmussen Reports survey released just before Warner’s announcement, the Markster has a sizeable advantage over his Republican rivals. In a no-holds-barred cage match between former Virginia governors, Warner currently trounces Gilmore by 20 percentage points, 54 percent to 34 percent. And Tom Davis fares even worse, eking out only 30 percent of the vote to Mark’s monstrous 57 percent.

Hell, even stalwart conservative champion Robert Novak, in his syndicated September 5 column, admitted that Warner is going to be tough to beat: "Former Gov. Mark Warner…is an overwhelming favorite to win in Virginia next year," Novak noted. "Republicans privately estimate that this will be one of four Senate seats they will lose in 2008."

But the vast right-wing conspiracy set is having none of it. The persistent rumor among right-wing bloggers is that Warner dropped out of the presidential race only after being confronted with some damning oppositional research collected by Democratic political consultant Howard Wolfson (working for Hillary Clinton, natch). This anti-Warner brigade further insists that current Governor Tim Kaine, at Warner’s behest, endorsed Hillary’s presidential adversary Barack Obama specifically to get back at the Clinton camp for their hardball tactics, and that Wolfson has since turned over his damaging dossier to the Republican National Committee, to do with as they will.

Juicy stuff, no doubt—and about as likely a scenario as America waking up to President Kucinich on November 5, 2008. But what the heck—anything to keep the contest interesting, right? Although when it comes to this particular race, Republicans better pray for a bombshell of the "caught with a live boy or dead girl" variety, because—in our humble (and invariably correct) opinion—not much else will dislodge Mark Warner from his perch atop the heap of Senate hopefuls.