For Mark Warner, There May Be Too Many Options

by Stuart Rothenberg August 20, 2007 · 12:05 AM EDT

Most people would like to have more choices in their life. But for some, life offers too many options. Take the case of Mark Warner, the former and possibly future governor of the commonwealth of Virginia.

Warner was a popular governor who was prohibited from seeking a second consecutive term in 2005. But at 52, he still has plenty of years ahead of him. The only questions are, what does he do next and when does he do it?

Warner doesn’t have to worry very much about that pesky matter of money. He’s got plenty of it, so the allure of the private sector and millions of dollars a year in compensation isn’t likely to be as great for him as for some in public service.

In October, the former governor dropped a political bombshell when he announced he would not seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. Journalists and Democratic insiders had assumed he would be a candidate.

When he announced his decision not to run, the former Virginia governor made it very clear that he was not closing the book on government or politics. Instead, he explained that he was not willing, at that point, “to put everything else in my life on the back burner.”

“My decision does not in any way diminish my desire to be active in getting our country fixed,” he added. “It doesn’t mean that I won’t run for public office again. I want to serve, whether in elective office or in some other way. I’m still excited about the possibilities for the future.”

Warner’s statement was a classic “it’s not the right time” decision, and many people took him to say that he didn’t want to spend the next 18 months of his life on the road running for president.

By all reports, Warner truly enjoyed being governor, and that office will come vacant again in just two years. Might he decide to run for another term, which is allowed under state law?

Or with Sen. John Warner’s (R) seat likely to open up next year — I know of no one who thinks the veteran Senator will seek a sixth term in 2008 — will Mark Warner choose to become his party’s Senate nominee next year?

Or will the former governor decide he’d rather be available to be selected by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) or Barack Obama (Ill.) to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for vice president in ’08?

Warner would seem to be a perfect running mate for Clinton. A moderate from Virginia who made millions in the private sector and served as governor, he complements her geographically (South to her Northeast), ideologically (moderate to her liberalism) and in experience (his state office to her federal).

True, Warner hails from Connecticut, not the Old Dominion, and he’s more a yuppie than a rural Southerner. But he could help her carry his state, send a message about her pragmatism and boost Democrats’ appeal among moderates. Yes, the party’s left might complain, but they want to win more than anything else, and a Clinton-Warner ticket would look awfully strong in November.

The problem for Warner is one of timing.

In Virginia, the Democratic State Central Committee will decide no later than March 12 whether to select a 2008 Senate nominee in a June primary or convention. For a primary, the filing period would run from March 25 to April 11. In either case, Warner likely would have to make a decision about the Senate race well before the party’s presidential nominee has settled on a running mate.

Of course, Warner could enter the Senate race and still be available to join the national ticket in July or August, if the party’s presidential nominee were to select the Virginian as a running mate. But that would be messy, and, as one national political operative told me, a Warner Senate bid surely would be a factor dissuading the party’s presidential nominee from asking him to join the ticket.

If Warner stays available and isn’t picked for No. 2, his options change. A Cabinet post in a Democratic administration would be very possible, but he couldn’t run for the Senate until at least 2014 (assuming a Republican were to win it in 2008), since he obviously wouldn’t challenge Sen. Jim Webb (D) when he comes up for re-election in 2012.

Governor in 2009? Yes, that would be an option, especially since Warner could have a major role in redistricting after the 2010 Census. But it has its downside.

Warner and his family now reside in Alexandria — where he lived before he was governor — and a move back to Richmond would affect his family, creating school issues. And politically, if he doesn’t do as well during his second term as he did during his first, what will that do to his reputation?

“Being governor again would be like getting a perfect score on an exam and retaking it again,” joked one Democrat and Warner ally who acknowledges the risk.

Yes, Mark Warner has plenty of options. All he has to do is pick the right one. The choice, however, may not be as easy as it looks.