The Washington Post reports that Virginia Governor Mark Warner will not run against George Allen in the latter’s bid for re-election next year, making the incumbent’s bid look much easier than expected. Allen had geared up his campaign to run against the popular governor who could have put a major dent in Republican plans to hold and expand their Senate majority. Instead, Warner will have two years to prepare for an even bigger race — one which might find him eventually pitted against the same opponent:
Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) plans to announce Tuesday that he will not challenge Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) next year, leaving the popular Democrat free to explore a presidential bid, several close associates said Monday.
Warner, who leaves office in January, will announce his decision on his monthly radio show on WTOP, said Virginia Democratic Party Chairman C. Richard Cranwell, a Warner confidant.
“He is not going to run for the Senate,” Cranwell said. “He really wants to finish out his term strong. He doesn’t want anything to distract from that.”
A senior political aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because Warner wants to make his own announcement said: “He is not going to run. He is going to announce it tomorrow.”
If true, this helps Allen further his own presidential aspirations. The more he can avoid bare-knuckled political infighting until 2008, the better he can stage himself as a positive force in politics. A re-election challenge from Warner would have cost a fortune and required both candidates to slug it out on the record, a prospect that Warner did not find appealing for reasons of his own.
If re-elected, Allen could easily jump into the role of front-runner for the GOP 2008 presidential bid. However, Warner — even if he were to beat Allen — could only hope for a #2 position against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. In order to beat Allen, he would have to campaign to the left as a serious alternative to Allen and his center-right politics. That would put Warner on the left of Hillary for the primary campaigns, which might garner him some support but likely would cost him more in the end. Hillary will win the Left, anyway, based on her pre-Senate history. She has vulnerabilities from the DLC center even though she mostly espouses their positions now, but Warner could not hope to carry that banner less than two years removed from the kind of campaign he would have to wage against Allen to convince Virginians to change horses.
All that being said, I doubt it will make much difference in the end. Unless Hillary fumbles badly or the collapse of the 9/11 Commission causes a serious re-evaluation of her husband’s tenure at the White House, she will wind up with the nomination. Warner may be playing for the VP slot instead.