Thursday, January 17, 2013

Meet Mark Warner

Mark Warner, Senator from Virginia

Name: Mark Warner

Position: United States Senator, Virginia.

Party: Democrat

Age: 58


CAREER ARC:

B.A. in political science at George Washington --->  Harvard Law School ----> Staffer for Chris Dodd ----> Founded a venture capital firm and made millions ----> Campaign manager for Douglas Wilder ----> chairman of Virginia's Democratic party ----> lost run for Senate in 1996 ----> elected governor in 2001 ----> elected U.S. Senator in 2008.


POLITICAL EFFORTS: In 1996, he lost a U.S. Senate bid against incumbent Republican, John Warner, 52%-47%.

In 2001, he became governor after running as a moderate, no-tax Democrat who outspent his Republican opponent 2:1.

What was most impressive?

He played well in rural Virginia -- this despite his Ivy League pedigree and NoVa roots. The reason was simple. He engaged and listened to those different from him, and offered solutions that seemed less political than they did practical.

That's important, particularly when talking about the Democratic presidential nomination. Rural areas tend to breed Republicans -- both as voters and candidates for office, while national Democratic candidates often come from suburban or urban areas.

Thus, Democratic nominees are immediately at both an ideological and cultural disadvantage in rural areas as presidential nominees.

That's why Warner and NY Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's strong play in rural areas is so important.

No, they won't ever win the thousands of rural counties like Allen County, Ohio, where Republicans generally run up +30% margins. But they certainly can eat into those margins, and that's huge.

Getting back to Warner and his Ivy league pedigree and Northern Virginia roots and why he's somehow able to play well in rural areas.

His connection is actually much more natural than most Ivy league politicians, because Warner had much more humble roots.

He was the first in his family to go to college and grew up near Peoria, Illinois -- a town that sucks unless you're a meteorologist or planning a political career and want to tell rural voters, "Hey, I understand you. I grew up in Peoria." (also, it's sort of a funny name if you're 10 years-old. If you're going to move there, do it between the ages of 8 and 13).


GUBERNATORIAL RECORD

Impressive by anyone's standard.

He came in facing a $6 billion budget deficit and helped turn it into a surplus. When he left office in 2005, Pew Charitable Trust named Virginia the "best managed state in the nation."

He focused on investing in education, work force development, and technology, and did all that with a legislature that was heavily Republican.

His agenda was much more solution-based than ideological-based, and he'll forever be known as the "Business Democrat" and natural heir to Bill Clinton's moderate brand.

He's not beloved by progressives, although his name isn't trashed like some other moderate Democrats, because progressives know how challenging it was to win, win as big as Warner did, and govern with a Republican legislature in a state that was very red, at the time.

In fact, when he became senator, it was the first time in 38 years that the state boasted two Democratic senators.

Of course, Virginia is changing, but the fact remains that Warner was able to be an extraordinarily effective governor in a state that was pretty red, at the time, and he was able to bring loads of Republican legislators and voters on board.


SCORECARDS, measuring his career in the Senate.

A. National Journal: Based on last year, Warner has the 37th most liberal voting record in the Senate, which puts him in the more conservative wing of the Democratic party.

B. The conservative Heritage Foundation ranks him as the 6th most conservative Democrat. Only Joe Manchin, Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, and Claire McCaskill were more moderate.

C. The conservative Club for Growth lists him as the Senate's fifth most conservative Democrat.

D. The NRA gives him an "A" rating, which is probably threatened after he sounded open to assault weapon reform (phrase?) and fast clip reform (phrase?) in the wake of the Newton shooting.

E. The environmentalist organization, League of Conservative Voters, gives him a 100%. By way of comparison, Jim DeMint gets a 27%. So, on at least this score, Warner shouldn't generate too much wrath from environmentalists.

F. The Chamber of Commerce gave him a 70% for 2011 (Ben Nelson was the only Democrat to score higher), along with a 50% lifetime rating.

I'm not a fan of arbitrarily using a scorecard to pin down someone's ideology, but you can aggregate these things and get a pretty good sense of where a legislator stands, and it's clear that Warner sits squarely in the conservative wing of the Democratic party.


SPOUSE: Lisa Collis.

Lisa Collis, wife of Mark Warner (photo: public domain)

She made history by becoming Virginia's first First Lady to use her maiden and not married name.

It was a symbolic decision -- reflective of her streak of independence. She claims that the "disparagement of feminism" is the thing most likely to make her rant, drives a Dodge Durango, and told the University of Virginia that as a student, "The only time I put on a skirt in my four years here was to drop organic chemistry."

Collis professes to be "much more liberal" than her husband, "particularly on social issues."

She majored in biology at the University of Virginia, picked up a master's degree in public health from the University of Texas, was a public health consultant for the World Bank, studied nutrition in Guatemala, and worked on AIDS policy for third world nations before she became Virginia's First Lady.

In other words, for the universe to survive, it needs a ratio of about 3 Lisa Collis' for every one Kardashian. If that can't be arranged and it explodes, we all need Tom Cruise. Everyone needs Tom Cruise in a foxhole.

Another curio: She's about 5 feet tall; Mark is way taller.

Warner and Collis (photo credit: customhomebuilding, inc)


THEIR "AWWWWWWWW" STORY:

She met Mark at an Alexandria keg party in 1989 where they talked about history, movies, travel, and Peter, Paul, and Mary -- she loved that he loved Peter, Paul, and Mary, because back then, "it wasn't the cool thing to do."

This super group puffed magic into the romance (photo: BassPlyr23)

Oh, and here's one more "awww" thing that's not about their relationship, but literally shows up in every profile of Warner.

When Mark Warner's parents were visiting him during his college years at George Washington University, he got them two tickets for a tour of the White House.

When his Dad asked Mark why he didn't get a ticket for himself, Mark replied, "I'll see the White House when I'm president."

WHY WARNER CAN WIN:

If you're talking record, he might not thrill progressive activists like Martin O'Malley and aspects of Andrew Cuomo's tenure. But if Democratic activists look beyond the short-term and ask whose record will play best in a general election, then Warner hops to the top of the heap. 

He's also from one of the most important states in the country -- Virginia. It's very hard for Republicans to get to 270 electoral votes without Virginia, and Warner is more popular than anyone else in the state. When Warner was termed out as governor, he had a 74% approval rating, and a recent Public Policy Polling survey showed him with a +23% approval rating as a senator.

And, as a I mentioned earlier, his ability to generate those kind of numbers in a purple state has won him respect with some progressives. In fact, read this Daily Kos profile which acknowledges some of his conservatism but is otherwise glowing, particularly for his work on environmental issues as senator.

So Warner's advantages are the following: Record + Rural and Suburban appeal + homestate + fundraising, along with the fact that he's filthy rich himself.


WHY WARNER CAN'T WIN:

The big problem for Waren is that you generally don't see the party in power moving further to the middle when they're on a winning streak.

Why would Democratic activists choose to pursue a more moderate course after holding the White House for two terms? And especially after they've had what seems like it will be a very liberal second term from Obama.

If anything, Democratic primary voters and activists might actually overshoot and go even further to the Left with their next nominee.

To put it another way -- if the tea party had actually elected Christine O'Donnell, Richard Mourdock, and Todd Akin to the Senate, why would they suddenly move to the middle?

If he's going to run for president in 2008, Warner has to -- wait -- HAS TO start drifting even further toward the Left and taking the lead in the Senate on some issues near and dear to the Left's heart.

He's already (accurately) known as the pro-business, conservative Democrat. It would take some heavy lifting to undo that going into a Democratic presidential primary.

Another negative?

He's a white male. Both parties are teeming with candidates who fit into more electoral-friendly demographics.

The last thing you can expect the Democratic party to do is nominate a white male if the GOP looks close to nominating a Latino (Rubio or Cruz), an Indian-American (Jindal, Haley), or a Latino, female (Susana Martinez).

And finally, there's the elephant in the room -- the thing few want to mention because it's a shallow measure but oh, so, important, and we'll get to that right now.


ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM:

He sounds awful -- like he just had throat surgery and is defying doctor's orders by talking too soon.

After eight years of Barack Obama's mellifluous voice, it's hard to imagine Americans opting for the youtube clip below, and after eight years of Barack Obama's charisma, it's hard to imagine Americans opting for a guy who put out a snoozer of a 2008 DNC keynote speech.

And a bad voice and diminutive charisma matter more than ever.

Remember when it wasn't going to matter if the 2012 Republican nominee were charismatic or not?

Everyone said Mitch Daniels, Mitt Romney, and Tim Pawlenty's charisma deficit wasn't going to matter, because Americans were so over the charisma thing after a rough four years with the charismatic guy, and would be pining for the no-nonsense wonk.

Well, that didn't exactly pan out for Mitt Romney.

He was routinely trounced on nearly every personal trait, even though he ran even or ahead on more substantive issues. Turns out the personal mattered more.

Warner just doesn't have the personality thing down for a national campaign, and you can't grow a personality any more than you can grow hair if you're my brother-in-law (he doesn't read this blog -- that's payback).