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Warner's Winning Formula

Putting Allen on the GOP ticket would neutralize Warner's appeal in Virginia


Home cookin' is prized in the kitchen, climatology, the arts — and in politics. To most folks, the familiar — the local — is best.

Which is why, lately, a lot of Virginians, including otherwise level-headed journalists and scholars, have been caught up in Gov. Mark Warner's presidential ambitions. To the local commentariat, Warner looks like the logical man to save the Democratic Party.

In a way, it's easy to see why. Compared with, say, the puritanical Lilliputians who run Virginia's House of Delegates, Warner looms like a giant. But tall as he stands in the world of Virginia politics, is Warner a serious presidential prospect?

We may never know.

Sadly, Warner has surrounded himself with political strategists who are urging him to pass up a challenge to Virginia's other presidential hopeful, Sen. George Allen, in the senatorial election of 2006.

And if Warner ducks this fight, his chances of reaching the Oval Office won't be much better than, well, mine.

The reason? Warner possesses considerable personal magnetism and even more personal wealth, but in a large field of potential Democratic candidates, his distinguishing asset is geography. As a Virginian, Warner appeals to victory-hungry Democrats who adhere to the so-called Southern strategy, the belief that only a Southern governor can capture enough "red state" electors to win the White House.

After all, it worked for Jimmy and twice for Bill. It's just bound to work for Mark!

As a recent governor, Warner presumably would stand to win Virginia's 13 electoral votes and perhaps those of a border state or two. Assuming he could do that and hold on to the predictably "blue states," the Democrats would be back in power. Apparently, Warner's strategists hope to sell that vision in the 2008 primaries — appealing to Democrats whose main criterion is "electability."

There's just one problem with this rosy scenario: George Allen.

Before moving to the senate, Allen — like Warner — served as governor. Like Warner, Allen is known to cherish presidential aspirations, though he, too, will have to overcome a large field of better-known candidates to win his party's nomination.

That Allen is thinking of running is something Warner simply can't ignore, because Allen represents a trump card in the Republicans' hand should Warner end up on the Democratic ticket.

First, consider the long-shot possibility that Allen emerges as the favorite for the Republican nomination. In that case, the whole logic behind a Warner candidacy would disappear. Warner might — and probably would — carry Virginia against a Republican candidate from New York, Nebraska or Arizona. But against another Virginian in this normally Republican state, he'd likely run second.

Thus, if Allen starts looking like a winner, the Democratic leadership — and Democratic primary voters looking for an electable candidate —- would abandon Warner in favor of a candidate who could run strong in the Midwest or in the blue-trending Southwest.

But consider the more likely possibility: That after a respectable run, Allen's candidacy fizzles and some other Republican captures the nomination.

Warner would still have trouble selling himself as the most electable Democrat, because the Republican candidate could always offer Allen the vice-presidential nomination. Putting Allen on the GOP ticket — even in the second slot — would effectively neutralize Warner's appeal in Virginia and the Border South.

And because the party in power always holds its convention second, the Republicans would be free to offer Allen the second spot — after the Democratic ticket was chosen.

Given this fact, Warner will have a hard time selling himself to Democrats in New Hampshire and Iowa as their best option — unless, somehow, Allen has ceased to be a factor in the 2008 race.

And the one way to ensure that — the only way, really — is for Warner to do the job himself. In other words, Warner needs to eliminate Allen as a factor by beating him in next year's senatorial election.

To summarize: Knowing that the Republicans could easily counter Warner's geographical advantages by putting Allen on their ticket, the Democratic leadership — and Democratic primary voters — are highly unlikely to see Warner as their best bet. Against a Warner candidacy, the Republicans would always hold a trump card in the form of Allen.

Which means that Warner must attempt the daunting task of knocking Allen out of the 2008 picture by defeating him in 2006.

The bottom line: For Gov. Mark Warner, the 2006 senatorial election will be his rendezvous with destiny or the end of his ambitions. S

Frederick T. ('Rick) Gray, Jr. lives at Bermuda Hundred, in Chesterfield County, where he consults with students and their parents on finding the "right college."

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

Letters to the editor may be sent to: letters@styleweekly.com

Camp(aign) Sing-Along

by Mike Sarahan

Now that the race for Virginia governor is getting into full swing, somebody has to cut to the chase and ask the hard-hitting question. If Larry Sabato won't go there, I will.

So let's get it right out on the table: What campaign songs have the candidates chosen to use?

I predict that when the final votes are tallied, the election may well turn on the answer.

Take the classic example of the 1932 presidential election and the song, "Happy Days Are Here Again." Everybody, singalong, wherever you may be reading this:

Happy days are here again,

The skies above are clear again,

So let's sing a song of cheer again,

Happy days are here again!

With lyrics by Jack Yellen and music by Milton Ager, "Happy Days Are Here Again" was actually composed for the MGM film, "Chasing Rainbows" (1930), and it quickly became a popular Tin Pan Alley standard.

But when it was lifted by FDR for his presidential campaign song, it in turn lifted the spirits of a nation.

Now take the Virginia governor's race. Please. So far the "political battle" has been staged more like a fight on the school playground.

Meanwhile, the right campaign song will set a theme and direction for the campaign. It will spark and energize the multitudes.

So what can we expect as a campaign song from each of the candidates? I put the question out to each of the campaign offices, with startling results.

Most of the campaign representatives said they had not gotten around to deciding. Several actually said they were too busy trying to get people to focus on their campaign issues!

One candidate, and one alone, stands out for having chosen a campaign song. That man is Jerry Kilgore. So we will save him until the end.

The others need to do their political homework and some personal soul searching. Who are they, and what do they stand for? And how can they express that in a song? I offer a few suggestions, just to help the process along.

First, there is George Fitch, mayor of Warrenton, a candidate in the Republican primary, and definitely a man in search of a theme.

On his campaign Web site, Fitch mentions that he started the famous Jamaican bobsled team. He should do some cool running with a Jamaican theme then.

Perhaps use the hypnotizing song, "Don't Worry; Be Happy" for mind control. Work in a few lines about shrinking the size of government, cutting state spending, and voting for the bobsled guy, and your campaign is ready to go downhill, very quickly.

Next, there is Russell Potts, Republican state senator from Winchester, but an independent candidate for governor. Word from a well-connected source has it that Potts is a big Frank Sinatra fan.

From one angle, Sinatra's "My Way" plays perfectly for the independent candidate. But it is too much about the man who finds himself alone with his convictions, sort of like the loser after the election.

Maybe Potts should go with "To Dream the Impossible Dream" instead. At least that ends on a glorious high note. In his dreams.

OK. Now it's time to clear the field and play some hardball "Name That Tune."

The way I see it, we could end up with a razor-close race between Democratic candidate Tim Kaine and Republican front-runner Jerry Kilgore. Attention must be paid to every detail concerning the image and substance of these two men, as reflected in their campaigns.

And yet the Kaine campaign, remarkably, does not have a theme song as of yet.

Kaine will overcome this political blunder, if he can, only with quick and decisive action. Commission a song from Bruce Hornsby; steal "Sweet Virginia Breeze"; give Susan Greenbaum the big break she deserves!

Meanwhile, the light bulb just will not turn on in the collective head of the Kaine campaign office, it seems.

After admitting the glaring lapse in overall campaign strategic planning (no song), Kaine's press secretary, Delacey Skinner, said -- with somewhat of a distracted air -- that the Kaine campaign is instead "focused on the homeowner tax relief plan." Now how can you sing a song about that?

She also said the campaign needs to "focus on [Kaine's] vision for Virginia." That's my point exactly. What better way to come across with a vision than in a campaign song? Who wants to listen to a boring speech anyway?

Jerry Kilgore has the right idea. He has done the right thing. He has a campaign song.

When contacted at the Kilgore office, campaign spokeswoman, Carrie Cantrell, announced that the campaign has chosen for its theme song, "Let the Day Begin" by The Call.

The song goes back a ways (1989). It is a rolling anthem, not so much political as social, drawing in all people, including all people and calling on everybody to help start a new day.

Now that seems a good start toward a vision we can live with. Let's see if any other candidate can top it.

Most importantly, let's decide who can do the best job of transforming the vision of a new and better way of life into a reality for all Virginia's citizens. Then we can join in singing together, all across this great Commonwealth.

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