Political watchers are speculating that Virginia governor and GW alumnus Mark Warner has ambitions of running for president in the 2008 election after his term concludes in January 2006.
Warner, a Democrat who graduated from GW with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1977, is unable to run for another term because of Virginia law. Many political observers and media outlets see the former Thurston Hall resident’s next step as vying for the White House.
Following the 2004 presidential election, several news sources, including the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, have
mentioned Warner as a possible 2008 Democratic presidential candidate.
“He certainly has higher ambitions,” said Toni-Michelle Travis, associate professor of public and international affairs at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. “The Washington Post wrote about a possible presidency. He’s a southern governor, he’s done well fiscally, he’s middle-of-the-road, young and he’s personable.”
Bumper stickers and T-shirts reading “Warner: President 2008” can already be found on the Internet along with Web sites dedicated to his candidacy. Some predict that Warner will challenge Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) for his seat in the Senate in 2006, but the governor has not publicly given any indication of his post-gubernatorial plans.
Warner unsuccessfully tried to win a Senate seat in 1996 when he ran against incumbent John Warner (R-Va.). He became governor in 2001.
“He’s flattered by talk about a national candidacy, but if that comes to pass he needs to make sure he doesn’t mess up during his last year,” said Kevin Hall, Warner’s press secretary. “He still has 25 percent of the job left.” Warner could not be reached for comment because he is in India with a delegation of Virginia business leaders.
Warner’s bipartisan reputation has been the main source of his national popularity. When he was inaugurated in 2002, Virginia faced a $6 billion deficit, but in 2004 he worked with a Republican legislature to pass a $1.5 billion tax increase leading to a budget surplus.
“He inherited a huge fiscal meltdown but was able to pass cuts for spending and convince the Republican legislature to fix imbalances and raise revenue,” Hall said.
Experts said Warner is also seen as nationally appealing because of his ability to relate to rural voters. His 2001 campaign highlighted fiscal conservatism, pro-gun rights and support for the death penalty. His campaign also sponsored a NASCAR stockcar and used bluegrass music as its theme.
“He tried to have policies that address not just the northern Virginia economic engine, but also the more rural and depressed areas,” Travis said.
University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said that if Warner’s political career does not continue past 2006, he is receptive to the idea of Warner teaching at GW. Former Oklahoma Gov. David L. Boren is now president of his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma.
“That’s something the faculty would initiate, not the president’s office, but I certainly wouldn’t object to it,” Trachtenberg said.
Trachtenberg said Warner continues to be a supportive alumnus – he delivered the Commencement address in 2003, and he periodically returns for basketball games.
Trachtenberg characterized Warner, a former trustee, as a thoughtful donor to the University, and said they share a close relationship.
“He’s a wonderful person and a great American,” he said. “He was a member of the Board of Trustees, and he played an active role in particular with GW’s endeavors with the Virginia campus.”
The governor carries fond memories of his GW days, Hall said. Throughout his time as an undergraduate, Warner worked for Sen. Abe Ribicoff (D-Conn.). He later took time off from college to work for Ella Grasso’s gubernatorial campaign in Connecticut, and at the age of 21 he managed the congressional campaign of Chris Dodd (D-Conn.).
“I’d always been intrigued by politics and I came to GW, in a lot of ways, because I wanted to take advantage of Washington as a place to go to school,” Warner told The Hatchet in 2003. “It presented me with a great opportunity. I got to work on Capitol Hill, I got exposed to what politics is all about – the good, the bad and the ugly.”