Mark Warner, endangered after all

In a previous column, I labeled Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia as one of those non-endangered Democratic incumbents of 2014. Once again, this pundit was proven oh-so-wrong.

In what could have been cited as the upset of the night, Warner barely squeaked by Republican candidate Ed Gillespie. With over 2 million votes cast, the victory margin was a scant 18,000 votes. Gillespie had never run for elective office before. Yes, he had been chair of the Virginia Republican Party and chair of the National Republican Party. But his name recognition was slight or nonexistent to the average voter of the Old Dominion.

{mosads}If he was known at all, it was as a backroom guy, a talking head on cable TV or worst of all, as a big-business lobbyist. In addition, Gillespie is totally and completely charisma-deficient. There is nothing that makes him stand out. So why did he come so close to unseating a supposedly entrenched, safe incumbent?

Mark Warner had some distinct advantages going into this race. He had previously served as governor of Virginia. He was very popular. He left office after one term with an extraordinary 73 percent approval rating. Six years ago, he beat a former Republican governor, Jim Gilmore, for Senate by a whopping 32 points. His margin was an astounding 1 million votes.

Of course, I can cite the conventional theory that this off-presidential year was composed of an electorate that was decidedly Republican in nature. You know the mantra — older, whiter and more conservative; lacking those essential Democratic groups — young people, Latino, blacks and unmarried women. But I believe in this case there was another major factor.

Mark Warner, as I wrote before, was in my opinion a DINO (Democrat in Name Only). Gillespie made a big deal about him voting with Obama 97 percent of the time, but in reality, Warner has always been fervently intent to be viewed by Republican moderates as acceptable. Nowhere was that more apparent than the use of former Republican Sen. John Warner (no relation).

John Warner (who some to this day call Mr. Elizabeth Taylor, after his former wife) endorsed Mark Warner and campaigned with him and for him. You could not put the TV on without seeing the 87-year-old Republican singing the praises of the Democratic senator.

You have to understand that Mark Warner desires the approval of the business community. He himself made his fortune as a businessman and he has always sought their blessing. Another important facet of Mark Warner is, above all, to play it safe.

I’ll never forget when I hosted a radio show and asked him how he felt about D.C. statehood. This “controversial” subject scared him. Even mentioning it alarmed him. He immediately covered the microphone with his hand and said with the utmost gravity that “If you stop asking me about it, I’ll vote for it.” Quite a profile in courage!

My point is that Mark Warner has always taken the Democratic base for granted. He feels that with the Democratic Party moniker, that’s enough. He doesn’t cater to them and fundamentally he doesn’t care about them. This self-proclaimed “radical centrist” deep down is really not a Democrat, but a Republican-leaning non-party member.

That’s why his vote in Democratic northern Virginia fell so dramatically and numerically. To most Democrats in that partisan area, he’s neither fish nor fowl. There’s no passion for him. So in this non-presidential year, they did not bother to show up.

Mark Warner is unhappy being a senator. He’s just one of 100. And now he’s in the minority. I believe he wants to be governor again. In 2017, I predict that he will leave the Senate and try to regain his old office. Then there could be an interesting race: a rematch. Warner vs. Gillespie.

This time, somebody better remind him that he is a Democrat, and that he should run like one.

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

Tags 2014 Elections 2014 midterms Ed Gillespie John Warner Mark Warner midterms Virginia

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