Mark Warner dazzles Darden

Mark Warner dazzles Darden

The questions were inevitable. Even if former Virginia Governor Mark Warner was technically at UVA’s Darden School of Business as part of its Career Discovery Forums—a special additional speaker, according to its website. The addition of Warner as a speaker came just days after another Warner—five-term Virginia Senator John Warner—announced that he would not run for a sixth term, leaving vacant a seat that many expect Mark Warner to seek next year.

Would this be a forum for Warner to announce his candidacy for the Senate seat? Or might he instead announce a run for a second gubernatorial term, perhaps a more feasible route to a 2012 presidential campaign, something he’d explored for 2008? Many Democrats are also eyeing Warner as a vice presidential candidate, a former governor of a Southern state who would pair nicely with either of the two frontrunning senators from the north.

There is just one thing former Virginia governor Mark Warner wants you to know: He may or may not run for the Senate (or a second term in Richmond).

"This is a choice, in my mind, that’s either governor or senator," said Warner at the September 7 event. "The other speculation or possibility…I like to try to look at things I have some control over."

Warner acknowledged that a run for John Warner’s senate seat would preclude him from running for vice president. But when asked if it was a fair assumption that he was leaning toward a senate campaign, Warner smiled and said, "It would be an unfair assumption to make an assumption."

But first there was his speech to Darden’s business students. After an introduction from Darden’s dean, Bob Bruner, Warner strode onto the stage, faced the audience of around 200 students and acknowledged the applause. It would be one of the last times he stood still.

For the next hour, Warner roamed the stage, speaking through a wireless lapel mic, shedding his suit jacket in the first five minutes. It took about that long for Warner to address questions about his potential runs for public office. "I’m actually going through some career choices myself," he said, drawing chuckles from the knowing crowd. He continued, "Maybe after this I should see a career counselor." The last line got a big laugh.

By way of introduction, Warner ran though his biography. Harvard Law School. Co-founding the company that would later become Nextel. Starting up a successful venture capital firm. A unsuccessful run for Senate against John Warner (whom he now calls a friend). And of course a stint in Richmond where his administration managed to turn an inherited $3 billion deficit into a budget surplus.

Warner, at times, sounded curiously close to giving a stump speech. As he was talking about the financial opportunities to be had as the country is forced to rethink its fossil-fuel energy consumption, Warner said, "We may be the only country in history that’s funded both sides of a war." With a performer’s sense of timing, he waited a couple of beats for the laughter to crest before continuing.

Wrapping up, Warner offered tips to the future business leaders of the world (Learn From Failure, Choose Good Management Over Great Technology) before fielding questions from the audience. And wouldn’t you know it, one of the first questions was about a potential place on a national ticket as a vice presidential candidate. He answered that he was still weighing options and hinted that his missed his role in government. "I love being in business," said Warner, "but I loved being governor more." He left the stage to a standing ovation from the students.

Outside after his speech, surrounded by reporters, Warner said that he would announce his intentions in the coming week. "I’m anxious to finalize this and get out and be a job applicant again," he said. "I think I owe it to the people of Virginia, I think I owe it to the other folks who would run for either of these positions to make my intentions known."

But how will you make your intentions known, asked one TV reporter. Warner grinned slightly. "Stay tuned," he said. Will you make your announcement Wednesday, asked another reporter. Warner’s grin widened. "Stay tuned!"

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