RICHMOND, Va. – In an e-mailed video to supporters and an interview, former Gov. Mark Warner committed himself Thursday to a 14-month U.S. Senate race, pledging to put domestic woes on an equal footing with the Iraq war.
"People in Virginia and, I think, across the country, ... they want to see things get done — from health care to energy to competitiveness to how we make America truly more secure in this world," Democrat Warner said in an Associated Press interview, his first after announcing his candidacy.
"Iraq's important, but it shouldn't be the only issue that dominates ... our national debate," Warner said.
In an online video, Warner ended two weeks of speculation about whether he would run for the seat Republican Sen. John W. Warner is vacating after 30 years or whether he would seek an encore term as governor.
America, he said in the video, is seeing its international stature wane as the government struggles with "a mismanaged war." He also lamented the nation's eroding competitive edge and what he said was a lack of a "thoughtful approach on energy that would actually create jobs, make us more secure in the world and that deals with the threat of climate change."
"I've decided the way I can contribute most to getting our country back on the right track is to serve in the U.S. Senate."
Warner, 52, is among a few prominent Democrats whom party officials have been recruiting for Senate races. Others are former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, who have not yet announced their plans.
But no sooner than the popular former governor confirmed his intent, first disclosed to the AP Wednesday by sources close to him, Republicans began their attack.
On a National Republican Senatorial Committee Web site, DontMarkWarner.com, a new video excerpts a clip from an ad Warner ran in his 2001 gubernatorial race in which Warner says, "I will not raise taxes." Then the video notes that the state raised taxes $1.4 billion during his tenure.
"Listen, I am anxious to talk about my record as governor," Warner said when asked about the video. "Some of these national folks coming in with these attacks — it's classic Washington. An hour into the campaign and they're already whaling away."
Warner, a telecommunications multimillionaire, not only won in 2001 with the help of some breakaway Republicans who formed a group called "Virginians for Warner," necessity forced him as governor to compromise with a Republican-dominated legislature. Three members of his cabinet were Republicans.
"If there's one lesson we should learn in the last seven or eight years — and I hope the Democrats will learn it — is if you're going to really make transformative change, ... you can't get the American people to buy in if it's a one-party-only solution," Warner said in the interview.
"The Republicans controlled all levers of government the past seven years, and other than respond to 9/11 and invade Iraq, there's not much you can point to. My hope is that the Democrats won't make that same mistake and if I get to the United States Senate, I sure as heck want to be part of that effort to build a coalition that's actually about getting results," he said.
Two Republicans have expressed an interest in the race: former Gov. Jim Gilmore, an anti-tax activist who preceded Warner as governor, and U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis, a moderate who represents some of Virginia's Washington, D.C., suburbs. Both said they will decide whether to run later this fall.
Warner said he agonized over which office to seek and only locked in the decision a few days ago. The governor's office had a strong appeal, he said. In his final months in office, he longed for a chance to seek re-election, something Virginia uniquely denies its governors.
He said his wife and three teenage daughters all wanted him to run for the Senate, a decision that would allow them to remain in Alexandria, a 20-minute drive across the Potomac to the Capitol.
"I don't want to lay too much of it bare, but as we got down to the final part of the decision, they saw what I was kind of wrestling with and they said, `You know, if you really feel you've got to do the governorship, go back and do it,"' Warner said.