on August 1, 2007 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

John Warner decides not to seek sixth term

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) _ Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, one of the most authoritative voices in Congress on the military and a key figure in the debate over Iraq, said Friday he will not seek a sixth term in 2008.

Warner, 80, was first elected to the seat in 1978, when the dashing former Navy secretary campaigned alongside his wife at the time, Elizabeth Taylor. His retirement offers Democrats a valuable opportunity to take the seat from the GOP and expand their one-seat Senate majority.

“My work and service to Virginia as a senator” will end on Jan. 6, 2009, Warner said at a news conference at the University of Virginia. He thanked those who had helped give him “a magnificent and very rewarding career” in the Senate.

Warner chaired the Armed Services Committee when the GOP controlled the Senate.

While he said he still feels spry enough for the rigors of the Senate, Warner did not think it wise to push it for another six years. He quoted Thomas Jefferson, the university’s founder, in articulating his reason for retiring.

“Jefferson said, ‘There is a fullness of time, when men should go and not occupy too long the ground to which others have the right to advance,’” Warner said. “I yield that ground so that others may advance.”

Warner, a courtly senator with chiseled features and a full shock of gray hair, chose a sentimental setting for his announcement: the steps of the university’s signature structure, the Rotunda, which Jefferson designed. He chose the setting because it was where he attended law school in the late 1940s and 1950s, interrupted by service as a Marine in Korea.

“Senator Warner is a good friend, a great Virginian, and a true statesman,” said Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat. “He has been a strong and reliable partner to my administration, and all Virginians should honor his distinguished leadership for our commonwealth and nation.”

During his tenure, Warner has worked with six presidents and eight Virginia governors. He has served alongside 272 other people in the Senate.

Warner departs what would be a safe seat for the Republicans if he chose to run and gives the Democrats a better chance to protect or even expand their one-seat majority in the Senate. His announcement also came as another Republican, Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, considered resigning after his June arrest in a public restroom in Minneapolis.

The most likely Democratic contender is former Gov. Mark R. Warner, a wealthy Alexandria businessman who left office in early 2006 with unprecedented job-approval ratings. Mark Warner, who is not related to the senator, unsuccessfully challenged him in the 1996 Senate race.

“On a personal note, I know it is unusual for two people who ran against each other to become friends after the election, but John and I did,” Warner said in a three-paragraph statement. It contained no clue about when or whether Warner would announce plans to run for the seat.

A nomination fight among Republicans probably will include former Gov. Jim Gilmore and U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis. Davis’s office said he would have no comment on his intentions Friday.

Gilmore said in an interview he plans to focus on raising money for Republican candidates in Virginia’s legislative elections this fall and announce his decision later.

“But I am confident that if I run I will be the nominee,” Gilmore said.

John Warner kept his decision to himself, but it was not a surprise. Actions in recent weeks had fed speculation that he would retire. Several close, longtime staff aides and advisers moved on to other jobs. In the first three months of the year, he raised only about $500. He returned from a trip to Iraq last week recommending President Bush begin a troop drawdown in Iraq by Christmas but the senator looked weary and frail.

“Of course, there’s always the issue of age. The Senate is a very active organization, much is required of you. In my most recent trip for three days (to Iraq), it was day and night, jumping on and off helicopters, cargo planes, shaking hands, quickly eating and moving on,” Warner said. He said that he withstood it, but didn’t know if he could do it again years later.

“Although we are sorry to see the people of Virginia lose such a tireless advocate as Sen. Warner, we respect his decision to retire from the Senate after 30 years of honorable service,” said Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said she will miss her “friend and colleague.”

“At a time when the tone in Washington is so often defined by partisanship and rancor, Senator Warner has always risen above the fray, focused on what he believed was the right course for our nation,” Clinton said.

The GOP nominated Warner for the Senate in 1978 after the party’s first choice, Richard Obenshain, was killed in a plane crash. Warner was elected by the razor-thin margin of 4,721 votes out of 1.2 million cast. He was easily re-elected in 1984 and 1990, beat Mark Warner by about 5 percentage points in 1996, and was unopposed in 2002.

In 1996, the conservative wing of his own party tried to deny Warner a fourth term. Warner had angered conservatives two years earlier by opposing GOP nominee Oliver North’s bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Charles S. Robb. Warner declared the Iran-Contra figure unfit for public office and backed an independent who drew enough votes from moderates to assure Robb’s re-election.

Angered by what they viewed as party disloyalty, GOP conservatives backed former Reagan administration budget director Jim Miller to challenge Warner’s nomination. Warner easily defeated Miller in a primary, then defeated Mark Warner that fall.

John Warner mended his strained ties with the GOP by supporting the successful campaigns of Gilmore for governor in 1997 and George Allen for Robb’s Senate seat in 2000.

Asked whether he has a favorite to succeed him, Warner said he would “step back and let the state work.”

“No, I have no one in mind. I really feel an experienced person must step up, I think within the ranks of the Republican members of Congress,” Warner said.

Two years into a sixth term, Warner would have claimed the distinction of being the longest-serving U.S. senator from Virginia, a mark set by Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr., who was in office from 1934 to 1966.

His son, former U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd, called Warner “a splendid United States senator.”

“He did Virginia proud, serving with both honor and ability,” Byrd said.

Former Gov. Gerald Baliles, a Democrat, stood outside the Rotunda watching his old friend announce his departure and reflecting on Warner’s ability to put partisanship aside. The senator, he said, was instrumental in helping him enact substantial transportation funding reforms in 1986 because he had the standing to appeal to legislators and members of Congress from both parties.

“He meets people well, he listens carefully, he reflects upon what he’s heard and he looks at his options and he makes the decision he’s comfortable with and the decision that he thinks is in the best interest of the country,” Baliles said.