Sen. John Warner announced this afternoon that he will not seek reelection. Now all eyes turn to liberal Rep. Tom Davis, Warner’s favorite for his replacement. Davis will likely not have the primary to himself, as former Gov. Jim Gilmore is also considered likely to run. Such a primary would be bloody, and while many expect conservatives to line up behind Gilmore, his fiscal irresponsibility could prove problematic as he tries to unite the right in the state. If the choices are Gilmore and Davis, it could well be a step down from Senator Warner, something that was hard to imagine not too long ago.
The Democrats will focus their recruitment entirely upon former Gov. Mark Warner. Regardless of the Republican nominee, a Warner candidacy would give the Democrats the edge. He remains very popular and would have been reelected easily had he been able to run again. Especially with the election of Jim Webb, it is easy to see Virginia electing him as its next Senator.
The Virginia Senate race is now among the most volatile of all 34 races next year. Whether Democrats have a chance depends largely on the decision of Mark Warner. If he runs, it is us who will have the uphill fight. With conservative disaffection and the potential for a Democrat Presidential candidate to carry the state, it is an open question whether a Republican candidate who would not rally the base could knock off the former Governor. If Warner doesn’t run, another Democrat may have a chance, but we would have the early edge.
It’s just a hunch, but I expect that Mark Warner will defeat Rep. Tom Davis next November. The pressure on Warner will just be too great, and Gilmore did himself too much harm in an inept Presidential bid to be considered a viable candidate. I hope that I am wrong and that a conservative Republican decides to launch a bid, but the environment is bad. All but the most ambitious and those who have nothing to lose are unlikely to give up a seat for which they have the advantage to run a long-shot Senate bid.