U.S. Sen. John Warner, a Republican who is one of Virginia’s most popular leaders and a respected voice on the military, said toiday that he would not seek a sixth term in office, setting off a political domino effect for 2008 and 2009.
Warner’s Senate seat is now in play next year, a campaign that will rise to national prominence as Democrats try to defend their thin majority in the Senate.
Whoever decides to run in that race will help define the roster of candidates in 2009, when Virginians elect a new governor.
The 80-year-old centrist made the announcement Friday at the University of Virginia, where he received his law degree 54 years ago.
His decision ended months of speculation, and it will set off a mad dash toward the campaign trail, featuring Virginia’s most prominent political figures.
Former Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner is a likely candidate for the Senate seat. The two Warners are not related. Mark Warner flirted with a presidential bid last year and says he wants to return to public office. He is personally wealthy and could raise the necessary money to run statewide.
In fact, Mark Warner was John Warner’s last serious election challenger. In 1996, five years before he was elected governor, Mark Warner tried to unseat the senator but lost by six percentage points – which was a surprisingly close race at the time.
Republicans may be heading for a brawling primary election -- a fight between U.S. Rep. Tom Davis from Fairfax County and former Gov. Jim Gilmore. Davis is a moderate and Gilmore is a conservative. Former Sen. George Allen, who last his seat last year, is another possibility, as is Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.
Having Mark Warner run for the Senate could free up other Democrats to run for governor in 2009, notably Del. Brian Moran of Alexandria. Moran has said he will make up his mind after November, but he would not run against Mark Warner in a governor’s race.
Sen. Warner had wrestled with his decision, keeping it a secret even from his top aides. But last week on NBC’s "Meet the Press," he openly speculated about whether he could keep up the pace.
He said he has kept a daily diary for the past six months to track his feelings about seeking another Senate term.
"Should I stay? Should I not? The Senate requires you to go full bore, six or seven days a week, tremendous energy. Go to Iraq, jump in and out of helicopters, get on the cargo planes, no sleep . . . And I’ve got to assess, at this age, whether it is fair to Virginia to ask for a contract for another six years," he said.
Immediately after he announced his retirement, comments from politicians around the country began coming in.
From Gov. Tim Kaine:
Senator Warner is a good friend, a great Virginian, and a true statesman. He has been a strong and reliable partner to my administration, and all Virginians should honor his distinguished leadership for our Commonwealth and nation. Over the next 16 months, I will continue to seek Senator Warner’s wise counsel and able assistance.
From Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee:
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. The NRSC will be working with Senator Warner to field a strong Republican candidate to continue his work on behalf of the people of Virginia.
From C. Richard Cranwell, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia:
I have known John Warner for most of my political career. During that time he has served Virginia and the country with honor, bipartisanship and respect for the traditions of office. It will be incumbent on whoever replaces him to demonstrate many of these same qualities.
Whether standing up to the president on Iraq or supporting Governor Warner's budget reform in 2004, John Warner often put principle before party - a quality sadly lacking in too many Virginia Republican leaders today. His election, like the elections of Mark Warner, Tim Kaine and Jim Webb, demonstrates that Virginians want leaders who will reach across party lines and work together to get things done.
As we look to 2008, Virginia Democrats are energized and excited about this race. We have any number of strong candidates who, like both John Warner and Jim Webb, recognize that we need to change this administration's disastrous Iraq policies and work together on a host of issues to keep moving Virginia and America forward.
From Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling:
John Warner has represented the people of Virginia with distinction in the United States Senate for the past 29 years. I commend him for that service.
While there have been times that I agreed with Senator Warner and times that I disagreed with him on policy issues, I always knew that Senator Warner would do what he thought was in the best interests of our country. That is the mark of a statesman, and John Warner is the epitome of what a public servant should be.
As we look ahead to 2008, we will have some big shoes to fill and much work to do. I am committed to doing everything I can to make certain that we elect a conservative candidate to represent the people of Virginia in the United States Senate.
From former Gov. Mark Warner:
I join countless Virginians who want to thank Senator John Warner for his years of service to our country. He devoted his life to the citizens of the Commonwealth through his years in the military, his service as Secretary of the Navy, and his long tenure as our Senator.
His leadership and unwavering commitment to our soldiers and our nation's defense will be missed. I particularly respect the thoughtful, reasoned approach Senator Warner takes to the problems and issues we face: John Warner always puts the Commonwealth and country before party and partisanship. And during my time as Governor, he and I were able to work across party lines to shore up Virginia's finances, take on our transportation challenges, and deal with the BRAC process. His independence and civility are something we need more of in our public life.
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. I'm proud to call John Warner a friend and wish him nothing but the best in the years ahead.
From House of Delegates Democratic Caucus Chairman Brian Moran:
Senator Warner has been a dedicated public servant spanning nearly three decades. His record of accomplishments and of service is second to none. He has served in the best tradition of a Virginia statesman. We need more leaders like Senator Warner and he will be sorely missed.
From U.S. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Newport News:
I was disappointed today to learn of the decision of Senator John Warner not to seek another term in the US Senate. For over 50 years, Senator Warner has served the United States in many different capacities. Whether it was as a Navy sailor or a Marine, law clerk or Assistant US Attorney, Secretary of the Navy or U.S. Senator, Senator Warner has always served proudly with a deep sense of reverence and honor.
During his Senatorial career, Senator Warner's strong advocacy for our Armed Forces has been good not only for our national security, but also for the economy of the entire Hampton Roads area. In the highly charged partisan atmosphere of Washington, he has always been able to put the interests of the Commonwealth and the nation above partisan political interests. As dean of the Virginia Congressional delegation, Senator Warner has convinced the delegation to put aside political or personal disagreements and work together in the best interests of Virginia. It has been a personal privilege to serve beside such a consummate statesman.
There are many challenging issues facing our nation and I look forward to working with Senator Warner for the remainder of the 110th Congress and in whatever capacity he chooses to serve in the future.
From Attorney General Bob McDonnell:
John Warner has devoted his life to the service of Commonwealth and Country. His life has placed him at the center of historic events that have helped shape our world. As a teenager, 62 years ago, John Warner volunteered to serve in World War II, and thereafter in Korea. He is one of the few remaining veterans of World War II still serving in the United States Senate. He continued his service to our country when he was appointed by President Nixon as Undersecretary of the Navy, and then Secretary of the Navy, during the Vietnam War.
In the summer of 1978, tragedy struck the Republican Party of Virginia with the death of Senate candidate Richard Obenshain. At a time of grief and loss, John Warner brought a devastated party together with grace, humility and courage, and won the Senate seat he holds today. In the United States Senate he has been a leading authority on the military and foreign affairs, and a strong working partner with three different Republican Presidents. Throughout his time in Washington, Senator Warner has spoken his mind, and done what he believed best for the state and nation. While I have not always agreed with Senator Warner on certain political and policy matters, he is a Virginia gentleman who believes in finding solutions and disagreeing amicably. He has accomplished enormous good for Virginia during his five terms in the U.S. Senate.
While Virginians would have benefited from John Warner's continued service in the Senate, no one can fault the Senator for today's decision. A lifetime of public service stands as the Senator's legacy. Senator Warner will be missed, and I wish him the very best in his future endeavors.
From U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell:
John Warner has served the people of Virginia with distinction for nearly three decades. Throughout his distinguished career, John has been a leading advocate for the Commonwealth of Virginia, the men and women of our military and the security of our nation.
In the coming months, John will continue to be an integral part of our efforts as Virginia’s senior Senator. We are all better for having served with him and his Senate family will miss him.
State Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath:
John Warner’s service to the Commonwealth and the country was defined not by political party or ideology, but by dedication to the welfare of his constituents and the prosperity of our nation. Virginia is a better place because of his leadership in the United States Senate. His wisdom, honesty and integrity during these challenging times will be missed.
U.S. Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake:
Senator John Warner's career was the personification of the word statesman in a time when America so desperately needed statesmen. His guiding hand will be missed in Virginia, and his knowledge and defense of our military not soon replaced in this country.
Former Sen. George Allen:
Although I wish John Warner wanted to run around the track one more time, his decision is understandable. While sad, let us celebrate his magnificent record and enduring legacy to Virginia.
John Warner is a great American and a great patriot and we all are grateful to our state's senior senator’s 30 years of dedicated service to the people of Virginia and the United States of America. His gracious, thoughtful and tireless leadership has left many enduring monuments that will continue to improve Virginia and the United States of America. Above all John Warner will be remembered for his steadfast commitment to all Americans and especially our men and women in our Armed Services.
John Warner is a wonderful friend who was a mentor when I served in the General Assembly, a strong ally when I was Governor and a trusted partner in the U.S. Senate. He is the epitome of a Virginia gentleman, and the model of an honest, hard-working Senator.
John Warner is a man who loved the U.S. Senate and has earned the respect of all who have had the privilege of serving with him. He is a man from whom we always learn something new, valuable, insightful, or humorous.
He is a country gentleman, a legal scholar, a historian, a great storyteller, and an esteemed statesman, all with the joy in life of a 12-year-old boy. We all hope to have his energy and drive at the age of 80.
I know he will stay active and continue to impart his perspective and wisdom. I look forward to seeing him on the trail ahead.
Sen. Jim Webb:
John Warner’s decision to retire from the Senate will cause this body to lose one of the great voices on behalf of our men and women in uniform and also a strong advocate for the people of Virginia. At a time when our political climate is as partisan and divisive as ever, John Warner embodies bipartisanship, courtesy and generosity. He is the quintessential Virginia gentleman.
Senator Warner is skilled at reaching across the aisle to forge consensus when the people of Virginia and this country are looking for leadership. He maintains an independence and clarity of thought that are all too rare in Washington.
Thirty-five years ago, I was honored to serve on his staff in the Pentagon during my last year in the Marine Corps. We both served our country as Marines—John served in Korea; I served in Vietnam. We both served as Secretary of the Navy. And, today, we both hold seats in the U.S. Senate representing the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
While today is a bittersweet announcement for Virginia, the nation and the Senate, it bears emphasis that Senator Warner still has more than a year in office. During that time, he will continue to play a crucial role in formulating a more rational policy in Iraq. Just last week, we saw his leadership and independence on display once more. The President would do well to listen to John Warner during his last year in office.
From Paul Trible, former U.S. senator and president of Christopher Newport University:
If a public official can be irreplaceable, John Warner is that person. No one loves Virginia more and few people are as knowledgeable about defense and foreign policy. Most of all, in this age of confrontational politics, he stands for civility, speaks in measured tones and knows how to work effectively with Republicans and Democrats.
Amen to that.