By Paul Goldman
Professor Larry Sabato has decided to run the possibility of Senator Mark Warner for Governor in 2013 up the proverbial flag pole. I have known Larry for 36 years and he is a true teacher; despite fame and fortune, he continues to teach introductory courses, he cares about kids in high school, etc. This is a special guy who Virginia needs to honor along with others in education. Moreover, he is not a frivolous person, but rather a most careful and serious one. He knows what it means for someone with his standing in the world of politics, an internationally known analyst, to give such credence to what had until now been a rumor in certain Democratic circles.
By telling us that Mark Warner is giving the option serious consideration, he knows this dramatically changes Senator Warner’s standing in the Senate and over at the White House. Larry knows the game: Warner is one type of player if he intends to stay in the Senate for the long haul since right now, the venture capitalist figures to have a life-time seat at a relatively young starting age. This makes the other players treat him a certain way, knowing the seniority rules and that he will be using the Senate as a presidential launching pad.
On the other hand, if Warner is going to be following Senator Jim Webb out the door within the year, then these same players will treat him quite differently. Professor Sabato knows the mere fact Warner is having second thoughts about the Senate is itself a fact that will be chewed over by the other Senators, and can impact their relationship with the Virginian for a long time.
Larry Sabato thought about all this before raising the stakes for Warner on 2013. As a friend asked me upon hearing about Larry’s analysis: were Warner or people acting on Warner’s behalf behind getting Larry to run this up the political flag pole? I told her it would be very surprising to me if Larry let himself be used this way, that’s out of character. But Larry is savvy, and to the extent he got really good inside information on the situation, he would also have considered whether the facts had come to him for some ulterior motive. He would have concluded this way: there is never anyway to know all these motivations for sure, and moreover, what difference would it make?
As long as the information was solid, Larry had an obligation to bring it to the public’s attention; indeed that is what guys like Larry do. All I can say is this: if Larry Sabato says it is a real possibility, then you can take that to the bank.
But that being said, I have to say this also: Larry should have stopped when he was ahead, and not tried to analyze further. Unfortunately, Larry gave Mark Warner some very bad advice, and moreover, he needs to read the Virginia Constitution a little closer. Let’s examine why.
1) Larry said Mark Warner would find the Governorship a better platform from which to run for President, something the Senator has already tried once before and is expected to try again. This is really bad advice. To my knowledge, no one in American history has quit the United States Senate out of “frustration,” as Larry suggests, and then been elected President, at least since the office was popularly elected. Think about it: How do you quit the Senate, go back home to be Governor, and then ask the people to elect your President so you can come back to deal with a political system you found so frustrating, you quit in mid-term, leaving the very problems you have been railing about to others to solve?
I know the Larry answer: Warner could run as a change agent, saying he wanted to be President to change the way Washington works. That might sound good in Poli Sci 101, but in the real world, the public isn’t that naïve. Warner needs to look no further than Sarah Palin, who quit in the middle of her Gubernatorial term. She has never recovered as a serious player although admittedly she should never have been in that category in the first place.
The point is this: If Warner walks away from the Senate, he walks away from the Presidency by all we know about human nature, political history, and common sense. If he quits on the country right now – and that is how those who have the same ambition will spin it from day one – he can’t recover. Warner has been railing against how others in Washington refuse to do the hard work of solving the nation’s problems. So is answer is to split and move to Richmond to deal with state problems? As they say in the Southland, that dog don’t hunt.
Moreover, for Warner to use the Governorship as a launching pad, he would need to run in 2016, since he can’t run again for Governor. How exactly is that going to work? More on this later.
2) Mark Warner isn’t Huey Long, who as I understand it held the Louisiana Governor’s job, and got himself elected to the Senate at the same time, but decided to finish out the chief executive’s term before going to Washington. As I understand the story, when asked by reporters whether it was right to leave Louisiana with only one Senator for those many months, the Kingfish supposedly said: “What difference does it make, the seat was for all purposes empty anyway with that idiot in it.” Unless Mark Warner intends to be crowned Governor, he is going to have to run for the job like any other mortal. When he ran the last time – and he asked me to help him – we all knew he would have to spend roughly two solid years campaigning for the post. Admittedly, he doesn’t have to do that now. But surely he would have to spend most of 2013 raising money and campaigning for the post. This means missing a lot of votes in the U.S. Senate. This would become a big campaign issue: and knowing Mark, he knows it would put him on the defensive.
3) Meaning further: unless Warner quit the Senate – and the GOP would on his case hard demanding this every day – what would be his excuse in leaving Virginia without its full representation? There is no good answer.
4) Moreover on the Presidency issue, surely the GOP is going to ask Warner to pledge to serve out the full time term. He would get sworn in as Governor at the beginning of 2014; as we know, and the 2016 presidential cycle would have already begun. Surely Larry doesn’t think Warner can run for Governor, promise not to serve a full term, and then start running for President right away, with the people of Virginia clapping and saying: Amen. Moreover, for this to happen, he would at least need to have a Democratic LG. What if a Republican is elected?
5) Admittedly, Bill Clinton in 1990 ran for Governor of Arkansas and promised not to run for President. He quickly did the opposite. So there is recent precedent. But at the same time, how is it going to look to the country and the Democratic party: Warner quits the Senate because he is frustrated with Washington, leaves the nation’s problems to others to solve after railing at them for not solving them, runs for Governor and then turns around to challenge either Biden, Hillary, whomever for the 2016 Democratic nod? Come on Larry, that ain’t happening.
6) But you say: Larry means Warner could run in 2020, etc. That’s true; But this is not what Larry said, he said by becoming Governor, Warner would have a better chance, since he would have the platform of the Governor’s chair. Except at that point, Warner would be an ex-Governor. Two terms true, but still out of office. One term, two terms, would it really matter to primary voters? The only reason to quit the Senate to run for Governor again so you can run for President again is to be able to say: I am the outsider, not from Washington. To my friend Larry I say: that horse left the barn chasing Secretariat through the Virginia countryside when Warner got sworn into his Senate seat.
7) Moreover, as Larry knows, given Warner’s high marks for GUV TERM 1, it is virtually impossible for him to be seen as having done better the second time. This is not unusual in politics. This means Warner, by running for Governor again, also risks being remembered by the second term, not the first. How does this help long term? At his level, he is only as good as his latest rodeo ride.
8) Democrats can’t make a case of Cuccinelli not resigning if Warner doesn’t resign. And if Warner doesn’t resign, then we are back to the earlier situation: every time he misses a vote, it will be an issue. And of course, if he does resign, then McDonnell can appoint the Senator. That will not make the Democrats very happy.
9) Which gets me to this point: Contrary to what Larry said, it is not certain that Governor Warner will be able to appoint someone to fill out his unexpired term. A close read of the Virginia Constitution, Article 5, Section 7 make it clears Larry has made an assumption: Namely, that the Republican controlled General Assembly takes no action between now and the time the next Governor is sworn in relative to what happens if there is a vacancy in the office of U.S. Senator.
Larry is right in terms of how it works as of today. But the Virginia Constitution likewise says the General Assembly has the power to create a different scenario, a clause apparently not well known in VA political circles. But read it. For example, there would be nothing to stop the General Assembly from drafting a constitutional statutory scheme to fill such an opening very soon after the Governor’s Inauguration mooting out any Democratic advantage in fact CREATING A HUGE ADVANTAGE FOR GOVERNOR MCDONNELL WHO WOULD JUST BE LEAVING OFFICE. In fact, reading the VA Constitution, it would seem to me there is nothing to forbid the General Assembly from passing a rational law which forbids a sitting Governor from appointing his/her successor, instead giving that power in such a circumstance to the General Assembly.
Mark Warner would be an overwhelming favorite to win a second term as Governor, probably unbeatable. This would likely make the Democratic candidates for LG and AG the favorites also, unless either Bolling or Cuccinelli decided to seek re-election.
Those with knowledge of Virginia politics are likely to wonder – INDEED MORE THAN WONDER – whether those pushing Warner to run bring to mind the 1973 scenario when Republicans, fearful of the election of Henry Howell, the legendary anti-segregationst and mentor of Larry Sabato, persuaded former Democratic Governor Mills Godwin to come out of retirement to be the GOP gubernatorial candidate. Howell, the favorite, made a tactical mistake late in the campaign and lost a very close election. Godwin was likely the one person in the state who could have beaten Howell that year.
Are those pushing Warner to run in 2013 really part of a stop-Cuccinelli movement?
We can assume there are very few Cuccinelli fans at his alma mater, UVA where Sabato teaches, right now given the lawsuits. Larry lives there, you do the math.
Warner can be Governor again if he chooses. But there will be a very steep price to pay: not the least of which is to make Senator Tim Kaine a leading choice for Vice President in 2016 and possibly higher later on.
My read: The number of Southern Democrats is dwindling in the U.S. Senate. Given Virginia’s likely swing vote status in the next generation, this gives Senator Warner a good platform for VP, perhaps higher, surely a major player over the years since he has basically a lifetime seat in the world’s most exclusive debating society. As long as he stays in the Senate, Tim Kaine has to play second fiddle.
Right now, with all due respect to Larry Sabato, a Warner for President campaigned based on his being again the resident of the Big House at the State Capitol, is a fantasy. 2016 is not going to be Warner’s year for a Presidential run if he quits DC to go to Richmond. Warner will discover the same thing for 2020, etc.
Life is tough: but with all due respect again, being a U.S. Senator isn’t.
Warner may wish the Senate operated differently. I wish the newer generation of Hollywood actresses would start calling me again. Neither of us is likely to get our wish anytime soon.
But if Warner wants to be President, he can’t pull a Palin, spend all that time complaining about how others won’t work on the problems, and then quit the fight and expect to run for President in the next cycle?
Dr. Sabato knows better than that.
Warner needs to suck it up and tough it out: and in my view, get to work passing S. 1685 which let him take credit for building thousands of schools around the country. In 1960, Jack Kennedy thought that image would help get him the Presidency, just look at the first TV debate with Nixon.
Warner’s path to the Presidency or Vice Presidency, in my view, goes through the upwards of 40,000 rundown old public buildings in America, in just about every locality in the country, which are contributing to the decline of America: just ask the professors and doctoral students at Virginia Tech who have done the studies!
You can’t get a 21st century education in a school even too old to now teach a 20th century curriculum.
Either we upgrade education – and Warner can be a leader here – or we downgrade America. It’s our choice, and it has to be made yesterday.