DENVER – Former Virginia governor and current U.S. Senate candidate Mark Warner called for a new era of government where “old partisanship gives way to new ideas” during his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention Tuesday night.
Speaking at an event where many speakers have chastised Republican politicians, Warner’s address had a more conciliatory tone.
“If an idea works, it really doesn’t matter if it has an “R” or a “D” next to it,” he said. “This election isn’t about liberal versus conservative. It’s not about left versus right. It’s about future versus the past.”
Warner, 53, expressed confidence in Sen. Barack Obama’s ability to lead the nation.
“We need a president who understands the world today,” he said to the capacity crowd at the Pepsi Center. “We need Barack Obama as the next president of the United States.”
The Democrats’ selection of Warner, Virginia governor from 2002-2006, as keynote speaker, is a reminder of Virginia’s importance as a battleground state this year.
Virginia has not voted for a Democratic candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
But Democrats are placing great importance on Virginia and its 13 electoral votes – the 12th-most of any state – because the state is in play this year. An August 13, poll by Rasmussen Reports shows Obama with a one-point lead in Virginia – 46 percent to 45 percent – over Sen. John McCain.
The competitiveness of the Virginia race may also have an effect on Maryland and Washington. The Obama campaign is airing more ads in the state than presidential campaigns in years past, many of which are being seen in Maryland and the district.
“It will heighten Democratic turnout,” said David Paulson, press director for the Maryland Democratic Party.
In Virginia, Warner enjoyed an 80 percent approval rating during his term as governor. This November, he is expected to win the Senate seat vacated by Sen. John Warner (no relation), the 81-year-old Virginia Republican who chose not to seek a sixth term.
An August 14 Rasmussen poll shows Mark Warner leading by 26 percentage points over Republican candidate Jim Gilmore, who preceded him as governor from 1998-2002. Virginia’s governors are only allowed to serve one term.
Jared Leopold, the Democratic Party of Virginia’s campaign communications director, believes Warner will continue the string of victories led by the elections of Gov. Tim Kaine in 2005 and U.S. Sen. Jim Webb in 2006.
“We’ve clearly seen at this point the leadership that Virginia Democrats bring,” Leopold said. “And part of the leadership is working across party lines.”
A Warner victory would allow Democrats to gain an additional seat in the Senate, where they already hold 51 of 100 seats. Ron Walters, a government and politics professor at the University of Maryland, said the effect could be significant.
“The problem that [Democrats] had this last session was that the Republicans could keep them from mustering 60 votes,” said Walters, referring to the number needed to break a filibuster. “If you have expanded numbers in the Senate and the House, it means that there’s far more of a chance of passing a change agenda.”
Before winning the governorship, Warner had no experience as an elected official. He was a Democratic National Committee fundraiser from 1980-1982, managed Douglas Wilder’s successful campaign for governor of Virginia in 1989 and served as state Democratic Party chairman from 1993-1995.
He lost the 1996 U.S. Senate race to Sen. John Warner, then seeking his fourth term in office.
In 2001, Mark Warner ran for governor and defeated former state Attorney General Mark Earley. His victory was partly credited to David “Mudcat” Saunders, Warner’s colorful adviser who helped him win over some Republican voters with an unconventional approach.
Warner’s was one of the first Democratic campaigns to actively court “NASCAR dads,” socially conservative southern white men who typically vote Republican.
The Warner campaign eschewed hot-button social issues like abortion and gay marriage and instead focused on the more practical concerns of blue-collar families, like health care, education and employment.
During his speech, Warner emphasized his ability as governor to work with a majority Republican legislature and drew parallels between the situation he faced and the current one in Washington.
“When I became governor, this is what Virginia faced – a massive budget shortfall, an economy that wasn’t moving, gridlock in the capital. Sound familiar?” he said. “We have only one shot to get it right. And we know these new times demand new thinking.”