Recently, I heard a rumor from an “in the know” Republican political operative about Democrat presidential jockeying for 2016.
The topic of the 2016 race arose while we were discussing the question first and foremost on the minds of all political junkies in 2012. Who will Mitt Romney select as his vice-presidential running mate?
After weighing in with my prediction from last year that current Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell would be chosen, the political operative said that in spite of how hard McDonnell’s people are in fact pushing to make that happen, he disagreed that McDonnell would be tapped.
However, he suggested that McDonnell should run for Virginia Senator Mark Warner’s open seat in 2014. Open seat? That statement raised my eyebrows.
For an open seat means Senator Mark Warner would not be running for re-election in 2014. Apparently this rumor is making its way around Washington.
If true, this could have a tremendous ripple effect for the 2016 Democratic presidential race because Senator Warner then plans to run for governor of Virginia in 2013.
Here is why this rumor is important.
Warner’s long term strategic reasoning is that he will have a better shot at the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 if he is a sitting governor rather than just a run-of-the-mill senator. More revealing, is Warner thinks the longer he stays in the senate, he will accumulate a pesky voting record that will come back to haunt his presidential campaign. (As a prime example, nothing could be peskier than Warner's recent vote against the Keystone pipeline.)
Everyone in political circles knows that Mark Warner has a burning desire to occupy the Oval Office, and running for president as the governor of Virginia is an action plan that could actually work in his favor.
For those of you not familiar with Virginia politics, it is important to note that the governor of Virginia is limited to only one four-year term. However, the law allows a former governor to seek the office again, just not consecutively.
This law is tailor made for Warner’s presidential time table, having already served as governor of Virginia from January 2002 - January 2006.
During those years Warner was a popular and successful executive. So successful in fact, he thought his one-term as governor would be enough to launch a bid for the White House in 2008.
He found out otherwise, and then cited family concerns as the reason for not making the run.
As only a former one-term governor, Warner knew he needed to continue building his national resume if he was to make a future run for the presidency.
So, in 2007, Warner announced he was doing what other Virginia governors have done and that is to run for the United States Senate.
The opportunity to run for the 2008 open senate seat vacated by a popular long time senator, who just happened to have the same last name, was for Mark Warner, the political equivalent of picking low hanging fruit.
Mark Warner’s Republican opponent, also hoping to fill retiring Senator John Warner’s seat was Jim Gilmore, another former Virginia governor (1998 -2002) who preceded Mark Warner.
As expected, former Governor Mark Warner crushed former Governor Jim Gilmore by 31 points, winning 65% to 34%. To make Warner’s victory even sweeter, Barack Obama won the state in 2008. Not since LBJ in 1964 had a Democrat presidential nominee won Virginia.
Since then, Senator Mark Warner has kept relatively quiet in the senate, but that low profile is deceiving. For Mark Warner is a very smart, ambitious, self-made millionaire business-man who is using his time in the senate to learn all about domestic/international issues, and cement relationships that will help in his quest to become a formidable presidential candidate in 2016.
Back in September of 2010, I wrote this piece speculating that Mark Warner would appear on a presidential ticket before 2016. My thinking was President Obama would replace Vice-President Biden with Senator Warner for a host of good political reasons.
Obviously that was not to be, but there is still a high-stakes game of musical chairs among current and former Virginia governors with questions worth watching this year and in 2016.
Will Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell get tapped by Romney to be his VP?
Will Senator Mark Warner leave the senate to run for governor of Virginia as a platform for a White House run in 2016?
If Romney does not choose McDonnell or if a Romney/McDonnell ticket is defeated, will McDonnell run for Warner’s potentially open 2014 senate seat?
To make matters even more interesting, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza thinks a Mark Warner vs. Bob McDonnell presidential show down may be in the offing for 2016.
Finally, let’s not forget the saga of two more former Virginia governors, Democrat Tim Kaine (2006 – 2010) and Republican George Allen (1994 – 1998). They are currently battling each other for the open Virginia senate seat being vacated by Senator Jim Webb who defeated then incumbent Senator George Allen in 2006.
(Surely you remember Allen’s now infamous “macaca” incident?)
This Kaine/Allen senate race is one to keep an eye on for the outcome will help determine which party wins control of the senate.
Anyway you look at it, there are way too many Virginia governors running around always running for something. But watch closely, for all their collective ambitions could have a profound effect on national and presidential politics in 2012 and 2016.