The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Pollster tracking possible 2006 race; B1

Latest ‘what-if’ survey has Warner ahead of Allen

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

Officially, there is no Warner-Allen race in 2006. There may not be one. But if there were, it’d be a barnburner.

A poll released Tuesday by independent pollster Scott Rasmussen found that if Virginia voters were to choose between the two, Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner would come out ahead of former Republican governor and U.S. Sen. George Allen by a margin of 48 percent to 44 percent, a significant reversal from an April survey.

“Many people consider it unlikely that Warner will challenge Allen. [But] it would be difficult for other Democrats to match Warner’s numbers at this time,” Rasmussen says in the poll’s abstract.

“That’s all but definite, it’s not going to happen,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political analyst.

Warner has a favorable-unfavorable ratio of 63 percent to 31 percent. Allen’s numbers are 58 percent versus 37 percent.

Warner press secretary Kevin Hall and other Democrats have consistently said it’s too soon to be talking about 2006, and that the governor is focused on finishing out his term before starting any campaigns.

Besides, Warner likely has a much higher office in mind later on down the road, Sabato said.

“He might well beat Allen if he ran. But why go through that to get a Senate seat if you want to be president?” he said. Warner’s name has been circulating among Democrats as a possible contender in 2008, and “the Senate is not a good place” to be to get elected president, Sabato said.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., is getting a great deal of buzz — and millions in off-year contributions — as the presumptive Democratic front-runner in the 2008 presidential race. But Clinton doesn’t have the power to turn “red” states “blue,” Sabato said.

Warner might.

According to Sabato and other observers, a moderate Southern governor who has high popularity numbers in a solidly “red” state might be the prescription for an ailing national Democratic Party, which has gone from controlling Congress and the White House to neither in just more than a decade.

Warner recently announced the formation of a federal-level political action committee that will lay the groundwork for a run for federal office.

A “Draft Mark Warner” movement has sprung up on the Internet, where it’s not hard to find a “Warner for President 2008” T-shirt or bumper sticker.

But Allen isn’t one of those people who consider the possible 2006 Senate matchup unlikely.

The senator’s campaign re-cently announced fundraising of $2.5 million during the second quarter of the year and a war chest of more than $5 million in anticipation of facing an unnamed “wealthy, self-funder” next year.

“Governor Warner would be a very formidable opponent,” said Allen 2006 campaign manager Jason Miller. “That’s why

Senator Allen is focused on fundraising so early this year.”

Warner made a fortune during the 1990s in the cell-phone business and spent millions of his own money on his gubernatorial run and a failed 1996 U.S. Senate bid.

Even if Allen’s opponent isn’t Warner in 2006, the Republican campaign wants to be loaded for bear.

“We will be ready for whomever the Democrats send after us,” Miller said.

Of course, Allen might have his eye on the White House, too, according to campaign ob-servers. He’s been making trips to places like New Hampshire to speak with political groups — a first step to lay the groundwork for a Republican primary.

A former governor and congressman, some observers describe Allen as having the same “aw, shucks” kind of charm as Ronald Reagan.

“If the Republicans choose Allen, it’ll be because the conservative base of the party eliminates the rest of the candidates because they’re too moderate or too maverick,” Sabato said.

Other contenders more toward the middle of the political spectrum, like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have also cast an eye toward Pennsylvania Avenue.

Allen would also have to win out over other conservatives like Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president’s brother, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

“It’s very, very early,” Sabato said. “It’s much too soon to say that Allen is front-runner.”