Good politicians are good story tellers, and Mark Warner can tell a story. Warner kicked off his bid for John Warner’s (requisite parenthetical: no relation to Mark) U.S. Senate seat this week and rolled through Charlottesville yesterday.
In front of a midday crowd on the Downtown Mall, Warner, a former governor, told the story of how, a couple of days ago in Southwest Virginia, a person introduced him as the best governor Virginia’s had since Thomas Jefferson. Warner’s two middle-school-aged daughters were with him, and afterwards one said to the Senate hopeful, "Dad, don’t believe everything they tell you."
Hire me! Warner stumps on the Downtown Mall. (photo by Josh Rhett)
The story drew laughs from the crowd, but it also says something about just how comfortably out front Warner is of his Republican opponents, former Governor Jim Gilmore and state Delegate Bob Marshall. Besides being the widely recognized favorite in the race, Warner is crushing his competition in the fundraising department. As of March 31, Warner is sitting on $4.4 million, while Gilmore has a scant $208,000, Marshall just $20,000.
That Warner is able to knock himself down a peg or two says something about how much of a threat either Republican poses right now. In fact, before launching into his stump speech, Warner made it a point to list his past business failures and political defeats (after which, of course, he makes millions and wins the Governor’s seat as a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Republican state).
The Washington Post’s Anita Kumar has an excellent piece on Warner’s kickoff, and the big-ass lead he’s currently enjoying:
Warner’s speech in Charlottesville was preceded by a Who’s Who of local Dems. City Councilor David Brown emceed, Julian Taliaferro and Satyendra Huja were busy glad-handing the crowd, state Delegate David Toscano spoke and Mayor Dave Norris had his introduction interrupted by Warner and his procession making their way to the stage.
But by far the most conspicuous speaker before Warner was Bill Crutchfield, a lifelong Republican. Warner bagged Crutchfield’s endorsement because he is what Crutchfield called "a bridge builder," ("We don’t need more jihad politicians in Washington," said Crutchfield), a highly successful person and good on economic issues.
Warner made it a point to tout his Pro-Business bona fides and the creation of clean-energy jobs. Regularly the domain of the Republicans, Warner has made business one of his strengths. In 2006, Forbes Magazine ranked Virginia as the No. 1 state for business. Warner will lean heavily on the fact that he turned around what he called a $6 billion* budget deficit that he inherited from the previous governor, who is none other than his potential challenger Gilmore.
He talked the talk of a tough fiscal conservative, saying that Washington needs the smart government that he became known for in Virginia.
And in the end, Warner distilled his campaign down to a job interview, saying to the Charlottesville crowd, "I’m asking you, will you hire me?"
*Correction: The post originally stated that the deficit was $6 million. In fact, it was $6 billion, much more than a "pizza and a beer." The reporter vows to work on the legibility of his note-taking in the future.