The man who would be king

The man who would be king

Brace yourself, kids—we’re kick-starting this week’s column with a controversial, you-heard-it-here-first prediction: Senator John Warner will retire at the end of this, his fifth term in office. How do we know, you ask? Well, let’s just look at the facts:

* In his latest Federal Election Commission filing, Warner reported raising $500 in the first three months of 2007. And no, that’s not a typo: For a race that would almost certainly cost a minimum of $8 million (about what Jim Webb spent in his winning 2006 effort), Warner pulled in a whopping 500 clams. It’s almost like he’s been telling supporters not to contribute.

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* Warner’s commitment to another campaign seems to be waning by the day. Addressing UVA politics prof Larry Sabato’s class in early April, the 80-year-old Senator joked, “Don’t you think it’s time [for me] to go out and get an honest job?” Later, in a statement released in the wake of his dismal fundraising numbers, Warner’s lack of enthusiasm seemed palpable.

“I am seriously considering running again for the Senate,” he insisted. “If I confirm my decision to seek re-election, I have every confidence that I will be able to raise sufficient resources…to wage a vigorous campaign.”

* Finally, the statements and actions of Warner’s heir apparent, Republican Tom Davis, U.S. representative from Virginia’s 11th district (the fightin’ 11th!), are those of a man preparing to run. Not only has Davis been telling friends and supporters that Warner has instructed him to “get ready” for the race, but he’s been raising campaign cash at a furious clip—over $600,000 in the last quarter alone.

Davis’ desire to change jobs is understandable. After all, no matter what anyone says, the two halves of our country’s legislative branch are anything but equal. Yes, you need both chambers to craft and pass legislation, but honestly, which would you rather be: a member of an exclusive 100-member club so august and renowned that a major league baseball team once carried its name? Or a forgettable back-bencher in an ever-shifting mob of glad-handing, loud-tie-wearin’ yokels? Yeah, I thought so.

Readying for war with Warner? U.S. Representative Tom Davis is putting cash in his coffers for a possible Senate campaign.

So it only makes sense that Davis is hoping to perform the notoriously difficult bicameral boogie from the House floor to the Senate chamber. The question is, does the man have what it takes to a) fill Senator Warner’s celebrated senatorial shoes, and b) whup the formidable Mark Warner (or, should the former gov decline to run, whichever candidate ultimately wins the Democratic nomination)?

The jury is obviously still out on the second question, but—in our humble opinion—Davis still has quite a ways to go to measure up to the man he hopes to replace. Although he’s earned a reputation as a brilliant political tactician, Davis’ congressional tenure has been marred by lax performance and allegations of influence peddling. As Chairman of the Government Reform Committee (a position he held from January 2003 until the recent Democratic takeover of the House), Davis turned the committee from a government watchdog into a lap dog, ignoring obvious political malfeasance (like the outing of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame by Bush Administration officials) in favor of critical subjects like “threats to government information networks presented by peer-to-peer file sharing programs.”

More problematic is Davis’ relationship to the Tysons Corner-based consulting company ICG Government. The firm is run by his close friend Donald Upson, who, according to a damning article published last July in The Washington Post, trades on the relationship to drum up business. Among other things, the Post reported, “The firm has arranged for clients to meet with Davis in his congressional office. Upson has set up dinners and receptions with the lawmaker for his clients. And ICG has arranged for clients to testify before Davis’s committee.” The firm also has employed Davis’ wife, Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, as a consultant, and paid her a total of $78,000 in 2005 for working “10 to 20 hours a week,” mostly from home, using her cell phone.

This might all be business as usual in the clubby, corporate-friendly world of Washington, but it sure as hell looks bad. And, when you’re hoping to succeed a well-respected political legend in the legislative big league, looking bad is something you simply can’t afford.