Mark Warner, off and running for Senate seat

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It was  a line becoming standard in nearly every Mark Warner stump speech, whether it be for Virginia governor in 2000 (which he won) or for Senator in 1996 (which he lost by a hair).

Inevitably, someones cell phone  in the audience would ring, and Warner would interrupt himself, declaring to the audience: Some people hear that sound and think of it as an annoyance…I hear it, and think, ka-ching.

These days the cell phone magnate, Old Town resident  and  one time presidential timber  is privately delivering a different message to party leaders and precinct captains around the Old Dominion.

With a war chest of $6 million raised for his 2008 Senate race, hes not confidently saying ka-ching, but instead hes using two words to keep his Democratic foot soldiers motivated and wary of being overconfident: George Allen.

Mount Vernons Allen, the skilled political operator, highly popular former governor and  U.S. Senator was defeated in 2006 by upstart Jim Webb (D), despite  being 70 points ahead at the start  of the race. In December 2005  I took some political leaders to lunch at the Fish Market in  Old Town, and they told me I had about a five percent chance of winning, recalled Webb, now Virginias junior senator. The rest, as they say, is history.

Warner, who launched his second run for the United States Senate Monday at the Carlyle Club on the West End, has frequently started conference calls by invoking the ghost of Allen, according to local political operatives present on the calls.

Knowing Mark, he will campaign just like hes the underdog, Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) told a reporter. That said, I do think Mark will get two out of every three votes cast. Hes terrific at picking up votes from both sides of the political spectrum.

In his introduction of Warner, Moran threw a little red meat to the rabid Democrats. The whole world is watching this race, he said. I just cant wait to be supporting Virginias best governor in a race against Virginias worst governor. I mean, come on, this is a guy who could have run for President.

Stepping on to the dais, Warner said, Jim Moran is that one of a kind politician who actually says what everyone else has only been thinking…Sometimes it gets him into trouble, but he always speaks his mind.

In his campaign announcement,which hes been delivering all week to enthusiastic crowds from Abingdon to Martinsville, Warner has been sounding a  lot of the market-tested themes that propelled him to office before those of the  fiscally conservative, socially liberal New Democrat.

We took a different approach, Warner told the enthusiastic crowd of about 700 supporters. We paid our bills, met our commitments and did not make anyone pay for them.

As the crowd roared  its approval, Warner became introspective, and appeared humbled by their support. My first two businesses failed and my first foray into politics failed…Or as I like to think of it, that was  the race in which I got the Silver Medal.

Tonight, with a great humility, I proudly declare my candidacy for the United States Senate. Lets take back our country.

Sen. Jim Webb (D) appeared eager to be joined by Warner in the Worlds Most Exclusive Club. As they say, any jackass can kick a barn door down, Webb told the crowd. It takes a carpenter to build one. Mark Warner will help build a working majority in the United States Senate.

Afterwards, the crowd appeared energized. Lillian Spero of Fairfax, who volunteered for Warner in his 96 and 2000 races, said she will again this election at the ripe age of 83. I always knew he had a bright political future, said Spero, the retired Registrar of Fairfax County. Hes bright, hes honest and he really and truly cares. It comes across.

Ron Rigby, a retired federal employee who lives in Old Town, said he was most impressed by the way Warner handled the states finances, helping to restore its vaunted AAA credit rating. I particularly like his forward thinking, Rigby said. He has faith in people.

Charniele Herring, an attorney and deputy chair for Precinct Operations West, said she was impressed by Warners outreach to the African American community, through a networking group for black business leaders Warner founded. I like his common sense approach to problems, Herring said. People may be looking for a quick fix from politicians, which may not always be the best for Virginia. He understands that.

Sue Kellom, chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, said  she will aggressively mobilize  volunteers for Warner, regardless of polling numbers, which some show Warner  with an almost  60 percent approval rating statewide. Theres not a bone in Mark Warners body that will not be running a full-tilt campaign, Kellom said. Hes assembled the most talented people imaginable and hes in  it to win.

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