Sen. Mark Warner (D)
Elected: 2008, term expires 2014, 1st term.
Born: Dec. 15, 1954, Indianapolis, IN .
Education: George Washington U., B.A. 1977; Harvard U., J.D. 1980.
Family: Married (Lisa Collis); 3 children.
Elected office: VA gov., 2002-06.
Professional Career: Fundraiser, DNC, 1980-82; Venture capitalist, 1982-89; Mng. dir., Columbia Capital Corp., 1989-2001; Chairman, VA Democratic Party, 1993-95.
Democrat Mark Warner, a former Virginia governor, was elected U.S. senator in 2008. Warner grew up in Indianapolis and Connecticut. He graduated from George Washington University, the first college graduate in his family, and from Harvard Law School. Although he has emphasized his business experience in his campaigns, his first love seems to have been politics. After law school, he worked in fundraising for the Democratic National Committee and in 1989, managed Douglas Wilder’s successful campaign to become Virginia’s first African-American governor. His business success in fact grew out of his political contacts. While working for the DNC, Warner met Rep. Tom McMillen, a Maryland Democrat, who told him about the potential of cell phone markets just as the Reagan administration was about to award 1,500 free licenses for metropolitan markets. Warner cobbled together investor groups and packaged their applications in exchange for a fee and a 5% ownership stake if they received the licenses. The best known of these ventures was Nextel, and Warner quickly became a wealthy man. His net worth in 2008 was estimated at $200 million.
|Mark Warner (D)||2,369,327||(65%)||($12,515,479)|
|James Gilmore (R)||1,228,830||(34%)||($2,420,635)|
|Mark Warner (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2001 governor (52%)
But politics was always on Warner’s mind. From 1993 to 1995, he was the Virginia Democratic chairman. In 1996, he ran against Republican Sen. John Warner in what seemed a quixotic race: the senior Warner, elected narrowly in 1978, had won re-election in a landslide in 1984 and had no Democratic opponent in 1990. But the incumbent had antagonized conservatives by refusing to endorse Republican nominee Oliver North in his 1994 race against Democratic Sen. Charles Robb and by his liberal stands on some cultural issues. Mark Warner pitched his campaign not to his home turf in Northern Virginia but to the Shenandoah Valley and southwest Virginia, where North had done well. He carried southwest Virginia and lost the part of the state outside the three big metropolitan areas by only 51%-49%, a considerable achievement for a Democrat. But John Warner’s strength among moderates enabled him to carry Northern Virginia 55%-45%, and to carry Tidewater and metropolitan Richmond with smaller majorities. The result was a 52%-47% win for John Warner, but certainly not an end to upstart Mark Warner’s political career.
In the late 1990s, Mark Warner put millions of dollars into philanthropic efforts and set up four regional business investment funds in southwest Virginia, Southside Virginia, Richmond and Tidewater. By 1999, it was plain that he was going to run for governor in 2001, as an entrepreneur who could bring savvy business methods to government. He picked a good year. Incumbent Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore had succeeded in electing Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature, but then battled with them over the budget. Gilmore wanted to fulfill his 1997 promise to cut the state’s automobile tax, but revenues were coming in under projections. Republicans had a primary battle in 2001 between Lt. Gov. John Hager and former Attorney General Mark Earley. Earley won but had little money and no clear campaign strategy. Warner ultimately spent $5 million of his own money on the campaign, but used his fundraising skills to raise more in Virginia and around the nation.
Warner, who lives in a mansion in Old Town Alexandria, avoided being typed as an urban liberal. He called himself a fiscal conservative and pledged not to raise the income or sales taxes. Responding to complaints from traffic-choked Northern Virginia and Tidewater, he called for regional referenda on local sales tax increases for transportation. This pleased business interests and local legislators who feared congestion would stop growth and propitiated some tax opponents who felt they would get a chance to vote no. He opposed any new gun control laws and wooed the National Rifle Association, which remained neutral. He ran ads featuring old pickup trucks and bluegrass music, and he sponsored a NASCAR race truck. He traveled to all parts of rural Virginia, much as Wilder had in 1989, showing that he was in touch with everyday folks and reminding them of his investment funds and philanthropic initiatives. In October, Earley came out against the regional referenda, but this evidently hurt him with both sides. Businessmen and legislators were angry that he opposed transportation spending, while some tax opponents outside Northern Virginia feared it would make a statewide tax increase more likely. Earley ran ads on taxes and abortion, but Warner had inoculated himself on taxes and Earley’s opposition to abortion put off some suburban Republicans.
Warner won, but not resoundingly, by 52%-47%, a reversal of the numbers in the 1996 Senate race. He carried all major regions of the state, albeit by narrow margins.
Once in office, Warner had to cope with an unpleasant fiscal situation. He got the Legislature to approve transportation tax referenda in Northern Virginia and Tidewater, but the House of Delegates rejected his education initiative in 2002. As the budget shortfall grew, Warner continued to rule out a tax increase, cut $858 million in spending and laid off 1,800 state employees. Meanwhile, in Northern Virginia and Tidewater, transportation tax increases were opposed by conservatives who argued that politicians would misuse the money and “smart growth” advocates who argued that more highways would mean more growth and traffic congestion. In November 2002, Northern Virginia rejected the tax increase 55%-45% and Tidewater rejected it 62%-38%. Warner said the results showed a “sobering” mistrust of politicians.
In November 2003, after the legislative elections and when Virginia seemed to be in danger of losing its AAA bond rating, Warner presented his new fiscal plan, a $1 billion tax increase, with increases in the income, sales and cigarette taxes and tax reductions for those with low incomes and in the car and food taxes. He argued that state government needed the revenue and that under his plan, 65% of Virginians would pay less. In early 2004, his plan was rejected by the heavily Republican House of Delegates, which increased taxes by just $520 million and provided few spending increases. But the state Senate passed a $3.8 billion tax increase, with $1.7 billion in new spending for schools and $1.6 billion for transportation. GOP Speaker William Howell was obdurate, but unable to hold his Republicans in line: 17 Republican delegates abandoned their anti-tax position and by April a conclusion was reached. The Senate agreed to a $1.3 billion tax increase, more than Warner had requested, and the House went along. Warner had gotten his program through a Republican Legislature.
By December 2004, the fiscal picture had changed. State government was facing a $1.2 billion surplus. Warner called for spending $32 million to offset state employees’ health insurance premiums, $200 million more for Medicaid, $70 million to cover cost overruns in college construction, and $824 million in transportation spending. He also sought a larger national profile. He became chairman of the National Governors Association, urged Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to target Virginia (which Kerry did, until August) and advised other Democrats around the country about how to win support in rural areas and among conservative voters on culture issues.
Warner had the satisfaction of seeing his lieutenant governor, Tim Kaine, win the 2005 gubernatorial election, though with a coalition more heavily tilted to Northern Virginia and away from the rural areas. Warner was viewed as a potential presidential candidate, as a Democrat who would appeal to moderates. But in October 2006, he announced he would not run, citing the impact a national campaign would have on his family. Then, when Sen. John Warner announced in August 2007 that he would retire from the Senate after five terms, Mark Warner announced he would run for the seat. He had no serious opposition for the Democratic nomination.
On the Republican side, Jim Gilmore, Warner’s predecessor as governor, decided to make the race. Gilmore had briefly run for president and was widely considered the favorite for the GOP Senate nomination, and when the Virginia Republican Party announced that the nomination would be determined at a state party convention rather than in a primary, U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, a Northern Virginia Republican, who had been mulling a Senate race for many years, announced he would not run. But at the state Republicans’ nominating convention in June 2008, Gilmore barely prevailed after being challenged from the right by Delegate Robert Marshall because of Gilmore’s support for some abortion rights. He only narrowly secured the nomination.
It turned out not to be a seriously contested campaign. Warner led in polls by 20 percentage points or more throughout 2008. Warner raised $13.6 million while Gilmore raised just $2.8 million. John Warner declined to endorse Gilmore and spoke favorably of his 1996 opponent, Mark Warner. Mark Warner argued that Gilmore left him a bad fiscal hand when he took office in 2002 and that he had been able to turn things around. Warner won 65%-34%, losing only two counties in the Shenandoah Valley, two exurban Richmond counties and two small independent cities. He got 2.37 million votes, the only candidate in Virginia history to win more than 2 million votes. He won 69% of the votes in Northern Virginia, 68% in Tidewater, 64% in Richmond and 62% in the rest of the state, running far ahead of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama even as Obama was carrying the state by six points. For the first time since 1970, when Harry Byrd Jr. declared himself an independent, Virginia had two Democratic senators.
In the Senate, Warner was appointed to the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and Budget committees, along with the Commerce, Science and Technology and the Rules and Administration committees. He immediately began to fashion himself as a moderate, joining the Moderate Dems Working Group with other centrist Democratic senators. He also tried to secure a reputation for bipartisanship early. Warner not only inherited the same email and web addresses from his predecessor, but three of Republican Warner’s key staff members stayed on to work for the new Democratic Warner, whom some of his staff humorously referred to as “Warner 2.0.”