Not an endangered Democrat

One name you won't see on any list of endangered Democrats is first-term Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia. Virginia is now considered not a red state or a blue state. In presidential elections it is deemed ... purple.

President Obama won in the Old Dominion both times. Before that, it was a very long time since a Democrat won (LBJ in 1964). Today the Democrats hold the three top posts (governor and both Senate seats). But in the state House of Delegates, they are vastly outnumbered.

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But I digress; back to Warner. First of all, he is richly blessed with a no-name Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, who is best known as a party operative and lobbyist. Gillespie has never won any elective office, nor sought one. There is nothing that distinguishes him. Maybe as a talking head on partisan matters on CNN in past years, but that is it.

He does not command any fervent backing on ideological issues. He is not a Tea Party favorite nor a moderate. He seems to best represent a relic of the past — sort of an in-between figure of Bush I and Bush II.

Warner, on the other hand, has repeatedly shown electoral muscle. Way back in 1996, he had the audacity to run against an entrenched incumbent, Sen. John Warner (R) and did surprisingly well. He lost, but respectably: 52 percent to 47 percent. In 2001, he won the governorship. That campaign says volumes about him.

A resident of tony, liberal Old Town Alexandria in northern Virginia, he packaged himself as a fiscal conservative. He was careful not to alienate the National Rifle Association (NRA), and all of a sudden he was featured in TV ads with pick-up trucks. He became a lover of bluegrass music and a devotee of NASCAR racing. This change in image and style was a clear and transparent ploy to appeal to rural voters. It worked.

He left the governorship with a favorable rating. Virginia being the only state in the Union where you can't succeed yourself, he saw his next opportunity and took it. In 2008, he ran for the U.S. Senate. Just like this year, his good fortune was to face a weak opponent — Jim Gilmore.

Gilmore had been a former governor, but barely got the nomination of his own party. Warner beat Gilmore by over a million votes. It cannot be stressed enough in politics: Draw an opponent that is either unknown, discredited or just plain lame. Warner describes himself as a "radical centrist." It has a nice ring to it, but that's my beef with him.

You've heard the term "RINO" (Republican in Name Only). Warner could be typed a "DINO" (Democrat in Name Only). I know he votes with the Democrats in the Senate on major issues, but he is oh-so-careful never to say anything that might be deemed, God forbid, "liberal" or even "progressive." He's sort of a poor man's Clinton without the charm, eloquence or sizzle.

He once harbored presidential dreams and ventured a very short-lived attempt, but found little traction. Warner benefits too, from a changing demographic. Democratic northern Virginia enjoys a larger population of the statewide vote. Warner has decided that the best way to assure political success is, when necessary, be all things to all people. Other times, blend into the background and don't stand out.

When challenged on issues or needing clarification, I found his office's policy is not even to respond, or to deny that they even received the call. Warner can probably stay in the Senate as long as he desires, but don't ever expect any daring moves or gutsy advocacy.

Now the other senator from Virginia, Tim Kaine (D), that is a different story. Kaine has long been in Warner's shadow (he served as his lieutenant governor), but that will not be the case in the future. Kaine could be a star. More on that later.

Plotkin is a political analyst and a contributor to the BBC on American politics.

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