Many Democrats are worried about the prospect of a Hillary Clinton candidacy in 2008 and are therefore looking for a “fallback” candidate. In an excellent profile in the New York Times Magazine, Matt Bai explains how Mark Warner might become that candidate.
Warner is a moderate, and he’s incredibly popular in the red state of Virginia. He makes a strong argument that Democrats need to field a candidate who can compete in red states.
Bai does a good job of summarizing the themes Warner will use in his campaign:
Warner’s constant theme, which a lot of Washington politicians talk about but few seem to actually understand, was the need to modernize for a global economy. The days when you could walk down the street and get a job at the mill were over, Warner would say, and new jobs — the state gained more than 150,000 of them on his watch — would require new skills and infrastructure. So Warner, working with Nascar, pushed through an accelerated program that enabled 35,000 more Virginians to get high-school equivalency degrees, and he introduced a program to deliver broadband capacity to 20 Southern counties. “In the 1800’s, if the railroad didn’t come through your small town, the town shriveled up and went away,” he told me once, explaining his rural program. “And if the broadband Internet doesn’t come through your town in the next few years, the same thing will happen.”
If he ultimately decides to run for president, Warner will try to build a national campaign around this same technology-driven approach. When I asked Warner to name the issues that would be most important to him, the four domestic issues he ticked off, before he got to terrorism and national security, were fairly standard for a Democratic candidate in the era after Bill Clinton: slashing the federal deficit, improving schools, working with business to reform the health-care system and devising a new energy strategy. What makes Warner, the former entrepreneur, sound more credible than your average Democrat is that he comes at these issues primarily from an economic, rather than a social, standpoint. On health care, for instance, most Washington Democrats will, as a matter of both habit and perspective, talk about the moral imperative of covering workers and the uninsured — and only then might they add, as an afterthought, that the current morass is an impediment to business too. Warner, on the other hand, begins with the idea that if American businesses can’t keep up with spiraling health-care costs, the nation will lose the competition with India and China for jobs. The same principle applies with education and the deficit. His fixation on the global economy brings a coherent framework to issues that otherwise seem disparate and abstract.
It sounds like a great message. Warner is a pragmatist who could offer voters a refreshing alternative after eight years of George W. Bush.
Yet Bai also points out that Warner is very weak on foreign policy, and he refuses to address the issue of whether we should have invaded Iraq. His positions on the war sound earily like the bland positions Kerry embraced in 2004.
This could be the issue that sinks his candidacy. More and more Democrats and Americans have concluded that the invasion was a tragic blunder.
Warner seems to be waiting things out, hoping that by 2007 the Iraq issue will be old news. It’s doubtful he (or the country) will be that lucky.