Warner V.P. Chatter Persists, Warner Senate Campaign Still Dismisses It

Three months ago, I picked up some chatter from supporters and associates of former Virginia Governor Mark Warner about the possibility that he might end up as Barack Obama’s running-mate. Apparently, Robert Novak is hearing the same thing.

In his weekend column, Novak wrote: "Warner, a strong favorite to be elected to the Senate this year, has told associates that he is being considered as Sen. Barack Obama’s vice presidential running mate." Novak also said that Warner had not told those associates whether he’d be willing to join the national ticket.

At the end of February, I wrote about the Warner scenario, noting that he’d make a logical pick for Obama for several reasons, among them his moderate reputation (he made surprising inroads into rural Republican areas in Virginia), the likelihood that he’d tip Virginia’s 13 electoral votes to the Democrats (and possibly help in some other Southern states) and his business and executive background (a nice complement to Obama’s legislative resume).

The main drawbacks to Warner as V.P. are his lack of foreign policy seasoning and the fact that he is now running for the U.S. Senate in Virginia. Right now, he’s all but assured of winning the Senate race against Jim Gilmore, the presumed Republican nominee (and, briefly last year, a G.O.P. presidential candidate). National Democrats worked hard to entice Warner into the race and would presumably resist any effort to pull him out of it.

But, as I noted in February, this topic has been discussed by more than a few Warner supporters and there is a contingency plan. In Warner’s place, Democrats would run Don Beyer, a businessman (and top-tier Obama fundraiser) from northern Virginia who served as lieutenant governor from 1989 to 1997 and who narrowly lost the ’97 gubernatorial race to Gilmore.

Beyer lacks Warner’s stratospheric statewide popularity, but the thinking is that he’d still be strongly favored in a Senate race. For one thing, Gilmore is a weak candidate. His governorship isn’t remembered fondly, and he became something of a punchline through his aimless presidential bid. His ’97 win over Beyer is regarded as a fluke, the result of a late push against a car tax, which propelled Gilmore to his narrow upset victory. Plus, Virginia is trending Democratic – the party has won the last two gubernatorial races and a Senate race two years ago. And Warner, even as Obama’s V.P. pick, would still be a factor, since he’d be running on the same ballot as Beyer.

When I wrote about this back in February, Warner’s campaign spokesman told the Washington Post that there was nothing to it.

And here’s what Kevin Hall, communications director for Warner’s Senate campaign, told me today when I asked for reaction to Novak:

"His source is wrong. What he describes did not happen. Governor Warner is running hard to represent Virginia in the U.S. Senate. Governor Warner has not had any conversations with any campaign about the vice-presidency. I don’t know if I can be any more clear in my denial than that."

So Warner has not had any vice-presidential discussion with any campaign. But apparently his friends are still spreading the word that at least one campaign is discussing him