So Much for Mark Warner and the White House

091407 warnerweb So Much for Mark Warner and the White House Go ahead and scratch Mark Warner from the V.P. short-list.

The former Virginia Governor, who was more than halfway into the 2008 presidential race before pulling out last fall, announced Thursday that he will run for the U.S. Senate from Virginia next year.

All sorts of forces within the national Democratic Party have been pushing Mr. Warner toward the Senate race: The seat is being vacated by Republican John Warner, but Mark Warner’s rock-star popularity (a near 80 percent approval rating when he left office in January 2006) will make him the odds-on favorite to flip it to the Democrats, thereby boosting the party’s fragile Senate majority.

But despite this encouragement, not to mention the prospect of a campaign that may well resemble a coronation, running for the Senate was a wrenching decision for Mr. Warner for one reason: By jumping in, he’s taking himself out of the mix of potential Vice-Presidential candidates next year.

This was not some abstract consideration. Mr. Warner, who at 52 is young enough to entertain White House ambitions well into the future, would have made for an unusually good fit with each of the most likely Democratic nominees—and he knew it.

He would have offered a strong chance for the Democrats to carry Virginia’s 13 electoral votes, something the party hasn’t done since 1964. And he might have been able to make inroads in other areas of traditional Republican strength. After all, Mr. Warner’s 2001 election in Virginia—and his enduring popularity there—was keyed by his ability to win over loyal Republicans from the southern and western parts of the state.

More specifically, he would have brought much-needed geographic and biographical balance to a Hillary Clinton-led ticket, countering her credentials as a New York Senator with his background as a moderate southern Governor and successful businessman. (He was a founder of Nextel before entering politics.) And in the event of a Barack Obama-led ticket, Mr. Warner would have complemented Mr. Obama’s effort to portray his candidacy as an outside-the-Beltway exercise in fresh-thinking.

No wonder that Mr. Warner took pains not to take sides after he pulled the plug on his own presidential effort last year: He was hedging his bet.

But he also knew that he’d be faced with Senate race decision long before the Veepstakes discussion finally kicks up. It was long assumed that John Warner, who is 80, would not be running in 2008, although he didn’t formally announce his retirement until two weeks ago. Well before that, though, national Democrats had set about trying to quietly coax Mark Warner into the race.

Part of him, no doubt, was tempted to tell them no, and thus preserve his V.P. chances. If he does indeed aspire to a White House campaign someday, this would have been the smart move. If next year’s Democratic nominee wins the White House, the V.P. spot on the ’08 ticket will establish its occupant as the early favorite for the party’s nomination in 2016. By contrast, Senator Mark Warner, by 2016, may look to Democrats like just another indistinguishable 60-something year-old Senator who wants to be President and has no chance—no different than Chris Dodd or Joe Biden right now.

There’s no guarantee Mr. Warner would have been chosen by Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama. But even if he had stayed out of the Senate race and still found himself passed over for V.P. next summer, Mr. Warner could have then turned around and run for Governor of Virginia in 2009, a race he almost certainly could win. The state’s one-term-at-a-time limit would have forced him out in 2013—just in time to begin running for the 2016 presidential nomination. As a former southern Governor, he’d surely find it easier to stand out in that race than as just another Senator.

A case can also be made that Mr. Warner, with his executive background, is simply more suited to running Virginia than listening to floor speeches in the slow-moving, ultra-deliberative Senate.

Of course, if Mr. Warner were truly consumed with a desire to be President, he would be a candidate right now. Before his exit last year, he had assembled an impressive organization that promised to make an early fund-raising splash. And his travels to early primary states had produced large and enthusiastic crowds, anxious to hear from a Democrat with a proven ability to win over a red state. It would have been tough to compete against the star power of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama, but how many opportunities does anyone get to run a credible presidential campaign? Mark Warner had as good a shot as any Democrat at attaining national office. But his decision on Thursday reinforced what we learned about him last year: He’s prepared to live without it.